What is PTSD?
Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur when people have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as:
- Natural disasters
- Serious Accidents
- Rape or other violent assault
- Actual or threatened death
Approximately 60% of people experience traumatic events throughout their lives. However, many people are able to recover without developing PTSD or any other type of stress disorder.
There are various factors that increase your risk of developing PTSD. These factors may be present prior to trauma, during trauma or post-trauma.
Historical trauma risk factors:
- Childhood trauma
- Psychiatric history
- Family instability
- Substance abuse
- Social/economic disadvantage
Immediate trauma risk factors:
- Life-threatening events resulting in injury or death
- If the trauma occurred in a place you previously felt safe e.g. your home
- Direct and indirect exposure to trauma
- Witnessing the trauma
- Feeling as if you have no control over the traumatic event
Post-trauma risk factors:
- Lack of social support or treatment
- Ongoing stressors and other stressful events
- Inadequate or destructive coping styles
PTSD is characterised by:
- Intense disturbing thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event, long after it has subsided.
- Reliving the event through flashbacks and nightmares
- Actively avoiding places, people and events that are reminders of the traumatic event.
- Abnormal reactions to triggers, such as loud noises.
- Low mood and adversely affected cognition, such as:
- Fragmented amnesia surrounding the event
- Negative emotional states about oneself, others or the world (e.g. “Nobody can be trusted”)
- Distorted beliefs about the event
- Loss of interest in activities
- Feeling detached from others
Someone experiencing PTSD also has changed behaviours.
One might display:
- Irritable behaviour coupled with angry outbursts
- Reckless or self-destructive behaviour
- Exaggerated startle response
- Sleep disturbances
PTSD can be diagnosed when the above symptoms occur for over one month.
Treatment and support
Talking to friends and family or journaling can assist in reconciling emotions and beliefs about the event.
However, if the aforementioned symptoms are interfering with everyday life, receiving professional help is important.
The first step is to contact a doctor, who may refer you to a clinical psychologist to help establish coping strategies and skills. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective therapy for PTSD. CBT involves:
- An assessment
- Education about PTSD (also known as psychoeducation)
- Anxiety management techniques
- Cognitive restructuring – changing how you think about certain memories or reminders
- Prolonged exposure to reminders and memories.
If need be, a psychiatrist will prescribe medications to help reduce symptoms. These will be administered in conjunction with psychological treatment. The most common prescriptions are benzodiazepines and antidepressants (such as SSRIs), which are both tranquillisers.