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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Any situation that a person finds traumatic can cause PTSD.

These can include:

  • serious road accidents

  • violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery

  • serious health problems

  • childbirth experiences

PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, or it can occur weeks, months or even years later.

PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others do not.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People who repeatedly experience traumatic situations, such as severe neglect, abuse or violence, may be diagnosed with complex PTSD.

Complex PTSD can cause similar symptoms to PTSD and may not develop until years after the event.

It's often more severe if the trauma was experienced early in life, as this can affect a child's development.

Find out more about complex PTSD

Treatment 

Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:

PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.

Treatment 

 

PTSD can be successfully treated, even when it develops many years after a traumatic event.

Any treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and how soon they occur after the traumatic event. 

Any of the following treatment options may be recommended:

  • watchful waiting – monitoring your symptoms to see whether they improve or get worse without treatment

  • antidepressants – such as paroxetine or mirtazapine

  • psychological therapies – such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

Find out More: 

Group therapy

Some people find it helpful to speak about their experiences with other people who also have PTSD.

Group therapy can help you find ways to manage your symptoms and understand the condition.

There are also a number of charities that provide counselling and support groups for PTSD.

For example:

Find out More: 
Signs & Symptoms 
  • Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD.

  • This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of:

  • flashbacks

  • nightmares

  • repetitive and distressing images or sensations

  • physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling

  • Some people have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them coming to terms with the event.

Avoidance and emotional numbing

Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD.

This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.

Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.

Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.

This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy

Self - Help 

Flashbacks can be very distressing, but there are things

you can do that might help. You could:

  • Focus on your breathing. When you are frightened, you might stop breathing normally. This increases feelings of fear and panic, so it can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.

  • Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at a particular object during a flashback. This might be something you decide to carry in your pocket or bag, or something that you have with you anyway, such as a keyring or a piece of jewellery.

  • Tell yourself that you are safe. It may help to tell yourself that the trauma is over and you are safe now. It can be hard to think in this way during a flashback, so it could help to write down or record some useful phrases at a time when you're feeling better.

  • Comfort yourself. For example, you could curl up in a blanket, cuddle a pet, listen to soothing music or watch a favourite film.

  • Keep a diary. Making a note of what happens when you have a flashback could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you. You might also learn to notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.

  • Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can keep you connected to the present and help you cope with flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. For example, you could describe your surroundings out loud or count objects of a particular type or colour. (See our page on self-care for dissociative disorders for more information on grounding techniques.)

Emergency Action plan:

HOW TO HELP IN THE MIDDLE OF A FLASHBACK OR PANIC ATTACK

  • During a flashback, people often feel a sense of disassociation, as if they’re detached from their own body. Anything you can do to “ground” them will help.

  • Tell them they’re having a flashback and that even though it feels real, it’s not actually happening again

  • Help remind them of their surroundings (for example, ask them to look around the room and describe out loud what they see)

  • Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths (hyperventilating will increase feelings of panic)

  • Avoid sudden movements or anything that might startle them

  • Ask before you touch them. Touching or putting your arms around the person might make him or her feel trapped, which can lead to greater agitation and even violence

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