Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious, often debilitating condition, and is a term used to describe the emotional responses to a traumatic event in a person’s life.
PTSD can be difficult to understand – often symptoms can continue months or years after the event and it might be hard for others to understand why post traumatic stress symptoms are still present, years after the event. The person experiencing PTSD symptoms may feel a pressure to ‘get over it’ or ‘stop dwelling on the past’, but the truth is PTSD is the bodies way of dealing with the trauma it has experienced.
When someone is involved in a traumatic event, such as a car crash, assault or near-death experience, it is very natural for that person to have emotional reactions such as anxiety and distress. This emotional response is known as Acute stress disorder and is used to describe feelings that last for less than a month. If these feelings stay for longer than a month and increase in severity, it might be that the person is suffering with PTSD.
PTSD can be caused by a single traumatic event, or series of events that have happened in someone’s life. PTSD can be caused by:
Most of the people I see who have PTSD have it as a result of being involved in a physical or sexual assault, a road traffic accident, were bullied at school, or in the work place. People may also develop PTSD if they were neglected by parents/family, have lost a loved one, had a difficult child-birth experience, or were involved in a natural disaster.
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The jury is still out as to exactly why people develop PTSD and the associated feelings of extreme anxiety, depression, flashbacks and anger following a trauma.
The symptoms of PTSD are thought to be coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress the body and brain have gone through and even a way for the brain to come to terms with what has happened.
Unsurprisingly, people with certain professions, due to their working environments, have a greater risk of developing PTSD.
But Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the general population is much more common than you may think. 4% of the UK adult population tested positive for PTSD characteristics.
You do not need to have been a victim of the traumatic event yourself; witnessing the event can still cause PTSD. Some people are also found to be more susceptible to PTSD than others. This may be due to how the brain processes stress chemicals released during traumatic times, but a history of childhood abuse, previous mental health issues or exposure to trauma can all increase the risk of PTSD.
PTSD symptoms fall into four categories, many of which overlap. It is useful to know that you may not immediately show symptoms after the event – they can take months to show.
In fact, in cases of complex PTSD where there have been repeated traumas (such as childhood neglect or domestic violence) it can take several years for the symptoms to appear.
Most people will show PTSD symptoms within three to six months of the event and these symptoms will include:
1. Intrusive memories
2. Negative feelings
3. Numbing and avoidance
4. Emotional disturbances
Not all people will experience all of these PTSD symptoms and some will suffer more than others; for instance, avoidance is common with those who have complex PTSD but not as common in acute stress disorder.
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Seeking help for Acute stress disorder or PTSD is really important. Acute stress disorder can naturally disappear but approximately 1 in 3 people will go on to develop PTSD symptoms.
Left untreated PTSD can seriously impact on the individuals’ life – relationships with family and friends can deteriorate and it can become really hard to carry on working. Sadly many people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping.
The good news is that both Acute stress disorder and PTSD respond well to treatment. Medication can help ease some symptoms such as depression and anxiety, but will not tackle the cause of PTSD.
Talking therapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy can help the individual come to terms with the traumatic event, develop coping mechanisms and deal with the aftermath of the event. EMDR can be very useful in reducing the distress experienced when remembering the event – it works by helping the brain unblock the memories which have become frozen on a neurological level.