What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
People can develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they have been the victim of, or witness to, a traumatic event. This could include a serious accident, a natural disaster, a violent crime, or domestic violence. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and some people may have experienced many traumatic events over a period of time.
Not everybody who experiences trauma goes on to develop PTSD. Researchers think some people develop PTSD when the memory of the event is stored in a different way from most memories, making it impossible for them to put the trauma behind them.
One of the main symptoms of PTSD is re-experiencing the trauma. People get vivid ‘flashbacks’ that can include seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling things that were part of the trauma. These intrusive memories feel real, as if they are happening now: if someone felt they were going to die at the time, they feel as if they are going to die every time they have a flashback memory. People can also experience vivid and terrifying nightmares in which they re-experience the trauma. They often thrash around in their sleep or cry out, and wake up feeling disorientated. People with PTSD may feel constantly threatened. They may blame themselves for what happened, or think they didn’t do the right thing at the time, feel shame because they didn’t resist an attack, or guilt because they didn’t stop what happened. They may find it hard to sustain relationships and withdraw from other people.
Another symptom is ‘avoidance.’ People with PTSD often avoid talking or thinking about the trauma they have experienced, and may also avoid people, places or activities that might remind them of the event. Some people become hyper-vigilant, constantly looking out for danger or threats, and may be more jumpy than usual.
Torture and rape are believed to be the traumatic events most likely to lead to PTSD as both involve another human being inflicting deliberate harm and humiliation. PTSD is also more likely to develop if someone believes their life is threatened.
People who have had many traumatic experiences over a long period of time are more likely to have complex difficulties. Research has demonstrated the more traumatic events a person experiences, the more likely they are to have PTSD.
If you are supporting someone with PTSD, or you are experiencing PTSD yourself, remember the following:
1) Some people may initially want to avoid talking about the trauma or event. Rather, many people benefit from practical information and advice, and assistance in establishing a regular routine
2) Eventually it will be extremely important to discuss emotions and feelings, but this will happen at an individual pace and cannot be rushed
3) Speaking to someone who has had a similar experience can often be helpful
4) If you, or the person you support, has been experiencing the symptoms mentioned above for an extended period of time (ie. over a month) it is important to seek help from a GP before these feelings escalate. Depending on your personal situation GPs can provide assistance in a variety of ways, including counseling or medication, or they can signpost you on to specialist support