Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly abbreviated and referred to as PTSD, is psychological diagnosis or mental health condition caused by either experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. Historically, it was known as “shell-shock” and “combat fatigue” and was associated, as the names suggest, with those who’d been in war zones. It still is, unfortunately, experienced by those in the armed services but in more recent times, it’s more commonly seen in first-responders (e.g. the police, ambulance and fire-services) and in the general public, following motor vehicle accidents and/or assaults.
Before going on, it’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or otherwise traumatic event goes on to develop PTSD; in fact, far from that. In reality, only about 20% of this group will be given a diagnosis. This is impressive because it means that approximately 80% cope well enough to return to normal functioning within a relatively short period of time; with little, if any formal treatment.
But those 20% who do develop PTSD can experience quite severe distress and symptomatology. As always, there are some who suffer much more than others, but regardless, the most common signs and symptoms can impact significantly on daily life. The ways in which PTSD can be experienced include:
- Intrusive memories such as recurrent, unwanted and distressing memories of the event; flashbacks or reexperiencing of the actual event, unpleasant dreams or nightmares related to the event, and severe emotional reactions to reminders of the event
- Avoidance behaviours such as trying not to think about or talk about the event, and attempts to stay away from places, people and activities that remind of the event
- Cognitive and emotional negativity, including unhelpful thoughts about oneself and the world, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, feelings of detachment which can contribute to interpersonal and relationship problems and general feelings of numbness
- Changes in physical reactions along the lines of being easily startled or frightened, hypervigilance, poor sleep, difficulty concentrating and irritability. Many of these can lead to attempts to cope which are ultimately unhelpful such as drinking excessively and/or using drugs
As already hinted at, the severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person and even within a person, they can vary over time. Similarly, the extent to which the levels of distress impact on daily functioning and the ability to work or go to school or complete normal social and recreation activities can also vary.
No matter how severe the PTSD is, however, the good news is there are a number of evidence-based treatments available that can allow those with this disorder to learn how to manage their symptoms, reduce their distress, and return to most or all of their pre-trauma lives.
To access the best treatment options, the first port of call will usually be your local general practitioner. They should be able to make a diagnosis relatively easily, and then recommend appropriate local resources such as a qualified Clinical Psychologist or a Psychiatrist. You can also find some useful and relevant information on the following websites:
Again, although PTSD can be very distressing and although it can impact markedly on someone’s life, I really want to emphasise that effective treatment is available. You don’t have to cope all on your own so reach out and ask for help from those who know how to help.