What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (more commonly referred to as ‘PTSD’) is an often debilitating psychological condition, which some people (but not all) can develop after suffering or being exposed to a traumatic or terrifying event. If left untreated, it can lead to dysfunction, distress, pain and withdrawal from friends and family.

For the sufferer, it can be a painful, bewildering time with nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and feelings of unreality. Low mood or depression can follow with feelings of hopelessness, social withdrawal from family and friends and even suicidal thoughts. These symptoms may last for months or even years and that is why it is important to seek help as soon as possible particularly when several of the symptoms are present.

Why is this happening to me?

It is important understand that you are not alone – Trauma and PTSD symptoms do not discriminate. Anybody can develop post-traumatic symptoms if they find themselves in a situation when they feel their life is in danger or threatened or when those around them have been injured or even killed. Even verbal descriptions of an event, i.e. an event where you were not personally involved, but it is described in detail, can lead to traumatic symptoms and or PTSD.

Examples of situations likely to provoke post-traumatic symptoms are: –

  • Road Traffic Accidents (or other accidents involving transport including Train, Shipping or Aviation)
  • Life-Threatening, Violent Personal Attacks – Rape or Sexual Assault, Mugging, Robbery, Homicide or Emotional Abuse
  • Natural Disasters – Earthquake, Tsunami, Hurricane, Fire or Flood
  • Military Operations or Combat (as a Combatant, a Prisoner of War and as a Civilian in Conflict Zones)
  • Acts of Terrorism (including Hostage Situations)
  • Or any of the above upon hearing that a close relative or significant other experienced these types of trauma and or witnessing them.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

These can be varied, but usually they will include : –

  • Nightmares and or Flashbacks (vivid reminders of the event or re-living the event).
  • Hypervigilance and or Hyperarousal (being on your guard, jumpy, irritable or angry
    with those around you).
  • Avoidance and or Dissociation (avoiding the issue or event, blocking out the trauma
    or experiencing feelings of detachment or numbness).

Other common symptoms can involve: –

Alcoholism, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue, Headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Intrusive Thoughts, Loss of Libido (or Sexual Urge), Panic Attacks, Palpitations, Reliance on Prescription Medication, Sleep Disturbance (Insomnia), Social Withdrawal, Substance Misuse (Reliance on Controlled Substances), Suicidal Thoughts, Sweating.

Assessment by a suitably qualified mental health professional i.e. a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Traumatologist, is essential in diagnosing PTSD or other possible trauma-related illness.

The time period between actually experiencing the trauma or event and assessment is also crucially important in determining whether the criteria for PTSD is met and what treatment is appropriate. Any treatment may also depend upon whether a single ‘one off’ event was experienced by the sufferer or whether prolonged or sustained trauma was involved.

In any event, PTSD and trauma-related illness is treatable.

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