Panic disorders afflict 1.5 million Americans during any six–month period. Victims suddenly suffer intense, overwhelming terror for no apparent reason.
The fear is accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms:
Sweating, heart palpitations, hot or cold flashes, trembling, feelings of unreality, choking or smothering sensations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, faintness, unsteadiness, tingling fear of losing control, dying or going crazy.
Often, people suffering a panic attack for the first time rush to the hospital, convinced they are having a heart attack. Sufferers can’t predict when the attacks will occur. Certain situations, however, such as driving a car, can become associated with them if it was in those situations where the first attack occurred. Untreated, panic sufferers can despair and become suicidal.
Obsessive – Compulsive disorders
Obsessive – Compulsive disorders (OCD) afflict 2.4 million Americans. People with OCD suffer with obsessions, which are repeated, intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause distress and extreme anxiety. They may also suffer with compulsions, which psychiatrists define as rituals–such as hand washing – that the person with the disorder goes through, in an attempt to reduce his or her anxiety. People who suffer from obsessive disorders do not automatically have compulsive behaviors. However, most people with compulsions also have obsessions. Victims of obsessions are plagued with involuntary, persistent thoughts or impulses that are distasteful to them. Examples are thoughts of violence or of becoming infected by shaking hands with others. These thoughts can be fleeting and momentary or they can be lasting ruminations. The most common obsessions focus on a fear of hurting others or violating socially acceptable behavior standards such as swearing or making sexual advances. They also can focus on religious or philosophical issues, which the patient never resolves.
People with compulsions go through senseless, repeated and involuntary ritualistic behaviors which they believe will prevent or produce a future event. However, the rituals themselves have nothing to do with that event. For example, a person may constantly wash his or her hands or touch a particular object. Often, people with this disorder also suffer from a complementary obsession such as a worry over infection.
Examples of compulsive rituals include
Cleaning, which affects women more often than men. If victims come in contact with any dirt, they may spend hours washing and cleaning even to the point that their hands bleed. Repeating a behavior, such as repeatedly saying a loved one’s name several times whenever that person comes up in conversation.
Checking, which tends to affect men more than women. For example, victims check and recheck that doors are locked or electric switches, gas ovens and water taps are turned off. Other patients will retrace a route they have driven, to check that they did not hit a pedestrian or cause an accident without knowing it. Obsessive–compulsive disorders often begin during the teens or early adulthood. Generally, they are chronic and cause moderate to severe disability in their victims.
Post–traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Often associated with war veterans, post–traumatic stress disorder can occur in anyone who has experienced a severe and unusual physical or mental trauma. People who have witnessed a mid – air collision or survived a life–threatening crime may develop this illness. The severity of the disorder increases if the trauma was unanticipated. For that reason, not all war veterans develop PTSD, despite prolonged and brutal combat. Soldiers expect a certain amount of violence. Rape victims, however, are unsuspecting of the attack on their lives.
People who suffer from PTSD re–experience the event that traumatized them through nightmares, night terrors or flashbacks of the event. In rare cases, the person falls into a temporary dislocation from reality in which he or she relives the trauma. This can last for seconds or days.
“Psychic numbing” or emotional anesthesia
Victims have decreased interest in or involvement with people or activities they once enjoyed. The common symptoms are excessive alertness and highly sharpened startled reaction, general anxiety, depression, inability to sleep, poor memory, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, survivor’s guilt. A car backfiring may cause people, once subjected to gunfire, to instinctively drop to the ground.