Can This Be Acute Stress Disorder?

Sad woman sitting on the floor alone in a room.

What is Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)?

Acute stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs within 4 weeks of a person experiencing a traumatic event, either directly or indirectly. An event is described as traumatic if it is shocking, emotionally painful and distressing. Such event may also inflict bodily harm or injury, or constitute a threat to physical integrity either of the person or another.

Acute stress disorder is closely related with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but unlike PTSD, its symptoms occur within 4 weeks of exposure to a traumatic event and lasts for a maximum of 1 month and a minimum of 3 days. People who have acute stress disorder have an increased risk of developing PTSD.

What Causes Acute Stress Disorder?

Anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic or very stressful event can develop acute stress disorder, including children. These traumatic events or sources of stress include:

  • Witnessing or being in a car accident
  • Being a victim of or witnessing a violent assault like rape
  • Losing a job
  • A failed business
  • Witnessing a war or a natural disaster like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions
  • Death of a loved one
  • Going through a divorce
  • Separation from a spouse or partner

These events can be traumatic and have be known to affect a person’s physical and mental health; either in the long, or short term.

Facts About Mental Health Conditions

An anxious woman alone in the dark.

Unlike physical illnesses, a mental health problem is often harder to deal with because of the many misconceptions and stigma associated with it. People who suffer from mental health problems are often discriminated against. They are thought to be the one responsible for their condition.

It is never as a result of an individual’s personal weakness

Mental health problems are often perceived as a result of a personal weakness or a flaw in the sufferer’s character and not as that serious condition which is a combination of factors – genetic, environmental, physical causes like head injury and biological – beyond the sufferer’s control.

It requires treatment

A person suffering from any mental health problem would most likely not talk about it or seek help. Sadly, mental health issues do not resolve on their own without some form of treatment. There is a high prevalence of mental health problems in America.

2018 estimates reveal that more than 40 million American adults are suffering from a mental health condition and 56% of this population do not receive treatment [1]. The same study reveals that the rate of depression, also a mental health condition among American youths have increased and 76% of those affected receive little or no treatment [1].

A person can completely recover from it

Mental health problems are often thought to be for life once a person has been diagnosed. In actual fact, a person can completely recover from a mental health illness. After successful treatment, a person can live a fulfilling life and contribute meaningfully to his/her community.

Anyone can be affected

Mental health problems are also often thought to affect only adults. Teenagers, children and very young children can and do suffer from mental health conditions. It is right to say these conditions do not discriminate on age, gender, race or status. Anyone can suffer from mental health problems.

It does not necessarily make people violent

It is not unusual for people to avoid someone they know to have a mental condition for fear of being physically attacked. In reality, most people who suffer from a mental health condition are not any more violent than people without a mental health condition. For those who are violent, they are more likely to have suffered violence in the hands of others than most people have.

A person with the condition can live a normal life just like every other person

Mental health problems do not necessarily have to hinder daily activities. A person affected with a mental health condition can have meaningful relationships, go to work, and excel in school or in their career, just like people who do not have the condition.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

People who have acute stress disorder frequently remember the traumatic event, avoid people, events or circumstances (stimuli), that remind them of the traumatic event and experience increased bodily responses (arousal) like elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

Symptoms associated with acute stress disorder can also be experienced by persons with other mental health conditions. This is why certain conditions must be met before acute stress disorder is diagnosed. If you think that you might be affected with acute stress disorder, answer the following questions as honestly as you can:

  • Do you have difficulty concentrating?
  • Are you making conscious efforts to avoid people, thoughts, activities, situations or things associated with the event?
  • Do you find that you are consistently unable to experience feelings of satisfaction and happiness?
  • Are you easily startled?
  • Do you find yourself unable to control thoughts of the event?
  • When you visit similar locations or you experience something that closely resembles the event, do you feel intense emotional or psychological distress as you are reminded of the event?
  • Do you consistently dream about the event?
  • Do you experience difficulty sleeping?
  • Are you edgy, irritable and easily angered?
  • Are you unable to remember an important aspect of the event?
  • Are you unable to work effectively and relate with people as you normally would?
  • Do you experience reduced awareness in your surroundings?

If you have answered “yes” to most of these questions and you have been experiencing these symptoms within four weeks of the traumatic event and for a minimum of 3 days and up to 1 month, you may be affected with acute stress disorder.

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder

There are different approaches to treating mental health problems. Usually, effective treatment often involves a combination of two or more treatment methods. Generally, people who have suffered from any mental health condition like acute stress disorder would benefit from receiving love and care from loved ones.

A man and two women,closely seated on a fence, hugging one another, happy and laughing.

Love, support and care from family and friends

Empathy plays an important role in helping people recover from traumatic events. Often times, a person might feel they are to blame for the event. Loved ones can help to assure them that they are not responsible for the event and that their reaction to it is absolutely normal.

Coping mechanisms

Often times, when people are exposed to a traumatic event, they are able to recover fully with the support of loved ones and their own natural ability to cope with stressful events. This natural ability is known as coping mechanisms. Professional intervention is usually not recommended until coping mechanisms and help received from loved ones have proved insufficient in treating the condition, or when symptoms do not improve.


People who suffer from acute stress disorder can feel better when they have talked to someone about it. At other times, talking about the event may further aggravate the condition. It is important that a person experiencing acute stress disorder is allowed to decide whether they want to talk about the traumatic event or not. They should never be pressured to talk when they do not want to. Loved ones can however encourage the person to remain in touch with friends and family.

Many people recover completely from acute stress disorder when they are shown love, care and understanding. If symptoms do not improve within one month of exposure to the traumatic event, professional help should be sought. Stress relieving supplements or drugs may be recommended to help relieve symptoms. This might help to prevent the condition from progressing to PTSD.

Mental Health America, The State of Mental Health in America 2018.