What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke
Many survivors of natural disasters suffer from stress disorders brought on by the event.
Many survivors of natural disasters suffer from stress disorders brought on by the event.

Acute stress disorder is a mental health condition that a person can develop in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic occurrence. It is often confused with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that also causes anxiety and other symptoms as a result of a traumatic event; however, it generally is not diagnosed until a significant period of time has passed after the event. Any emotional or behavioral changes a person experiences in the one month time period following a traumatic event will usually be considered acute stress disorder.

Acute stress disorder usually follows a physical attack or other traumatic event.
Acute stress disorder usually follows a physical attack or other traumatic event.

The precise symptoms of acute stress disorder can vary in both type and severity depending on the person suffering from the condition. Common symptoms include extreme feelings of anxiety or fear after experiencing a traumatic event, followed by withdrawal or denial of some sort. While traumatic events generally cause anxiety in most victims, they are still in touch with the reality of their situations and it does not prevent them from functioning in their daily lives. Victims who suffer from the disorder may sink into withdrawal or denial about the traumatic events and may not remember details of the events or may simply detach from reality and appear to be in a fog-like state and have trouble functioning normally. Those who do not withdraw or sink into denial may suffer from nightmares or flashbacks of the event and may go out of their way to avoid people, places, or items that may remind them of the event in any way.

After acute stress disorder is diagnosed, a person will meet one-on-one with a therapist.
After acute stress disorder is diagnosed, a person will meet one-on-one with a therapist.

Causes of acute stress disorder are typically summed up as any type of occurrence that causes horror or vulnerability in a person. A particular event can affect people in very different ways and some events that some victims can recover from can deeply impact others in a psychological manner. Common circumstances that can cause the disorder include acts of violence, such as rape, robbery, or exposure to combat, as well as natural disasters like fires, earthquakes, or hurricanes.

To be definitively diagnosed as suffering from acute stress disorder, a person must begin to display symptoms during the first four weeks after a traumatic event. The symptoms must also last for at least two days in a row. Once the disorder is diagnosed, it will generally be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. This treatment usually consists of a one-on-one meeting between a therapist and a patient with the therapist providing the patient with suggestions and guidelines on how to cope with the aftermath of the events. If the treatment does not work and the symptoms continue after four weeks, the disorder is considered to be PTSD and may require medication and more in-depth and long-term counseling.

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Discussion Comments

Talentryto

@rundocuri- I went through a similar situation with my father. I found it helpful to get him to focus on his loved ones, and how important it was to the family that he seek treatment for his acute stress disorder or ptsd. It was a long road, but he is on the path to recovery today.

Rundocuri

I have an uncle who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. From my experience trying to get him help, I know that many people who have stress anxiety following traumatic events often are in denial and hesitant to get help. Family members had to be compassionate and persistent to get him to see his doctor to get the help he needed.

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    • Many survivors of natural disasters suffer from stress disorders brought on by the event.
      Many survivors of natural disasters suffer from stress disorders brought on by the event.
    • Acute stress disorder usually follows a physical attack or other traumatic event.
      Acute stress disorder usually follows a physical attack or other traumatic event.
    • After acute stress disorder is diagnosed, a person will meet one-on-one with a therapist.
      After acute stress disorder is diagnosed, a person will meet one-on-one with a therapist.