Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after any traumatic event. A traumatic event refers to any shocking event that has happened in our life, touching us so deeply that it leaves a mark that we carry with us always.
This shock can cause you a long list of health problems if help does not reach you quickly. Not everyone will develop PTSD after a traumatic event, but many will experience symptoms in the short term.
The symptoms of PTSD will usually develop immediately after the traumatic event; however, in some cases (less than 15 per cent) the onset of symptoms may be delayed by weeks, months and sometimes even years.
In PTSD, there may be times where symptoms seem to slip into remission, which brings with it a false sense of security only to bring disappointment when symptoms return to the same initial level. The symptoms of PTSD can be separated into three main core symptoms and then other additional symptoms:
1)Re-experiencing. This can be in the forms of flashbacks or nightmares, and can be so realistic that you actually feel as if you are reliving the traumatic experience all over again. You not only experience the event again in your mind, but may also feel the emotional and physical sensations associated with the event again, such as smell, fear and even pain.
2) Avoidance. This occurs when it is too upsetting to relive the experience over and over, therefore you distract yourself by avoiding anything, anyone or anywhere that reminds you of the trauma.
3) Hypervigilance. This is known as constantly ‘being on guard.’ You may find that you cannot relax at all and are constantly alert and on the lookout for danger. You may find it particularly difficult to sleep, and other people may notice your jumpiness and irritable state.
4) Other symptoms that may occur are also depression, anxiety, phobias, substance and alcohol misuse, sweating, headaches, dizziness, shaking, chest pain, and an upset stomach.
There are five main types of treatment, but also a variety of others to be offered, depending on the individual and the results they show as beneficial:
1) Watchful Waiting: This involves carefully monitoring your symptoms for improvement or worsening. This is usually recommended if your symptoms of PTSD are mild and have been present for less than four weeks after the traumatic event.
2) Psychotherapy: This is a type of talking therapy that enables you to talk through the event and find coping strategies to deal with it.
3) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT teaches you the skills to change your thoughts, emotions and negative thought processes you may develop after a traumatic event. Trauma-focused CBT uses mental images of the traumatic event to help you gain control of your distress. You are likely to have between 8 and 12 sessions of CBT to deal with the symptoms of PTSD. You may be offered CBT if you have severe symptoms of PTSD which develop within one month of a traumatic event, or you still have PTSD symptoms within three months of a traumatic event.
4) Counselling: Trained PTSD counsellors can help you to explore your problems through listening and suggesting ideas for improvement.
5) Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR): This involves making several sets of side-to-side eye movements while recalling the traumatic incident you encountered. The aim of this is to help your brain to focus on the flashbacks you experience as part of PTSD, so you can come to terms with the event and therefore think in a more positive manner.
6) Medication (via a Psychiatrist or GP): Many people with PTSD are also extremely depressed, therefore taking antidepressants may help to relieve some of the symptoms and help people to get the most from the other psychological treatments they encounter.