Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder triggered by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
It is normal to experience stress after a trauma, but the symptoms normally diminish after several weeks. If the symptoms persist, then trauma-focused CBT or EMDR are currently recommended as the treatments of choice.
“The flashbacks were as terrifying as the assault.”
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- What is it?
- Common Symptoms
- How Let's Talk can help
Types of events that can lead to PTSD include:
- serious road accidents
- violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
- witnessing violent deaths
- military combat
- being held hostage
- terrorist attacks
- natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
- a diagnosis of a life-threatening condition
- an unexpected severe injury or death of a close family member or friend
PTSD is not usually related to situations that are simply upsetting, such as divorce, job loss or failing exams.
If you have experienced traumatic situations such as severe neglect, abuse or violence as an adult or child you 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.
Some people with PTSD experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they get worse. Other people have constant, severe symptoms.
The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals, but generally include the following:
Re-experiencing Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly re-lives the traumatic event in the form of:
- repetitive and distressing images or sensations
- physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling
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.
Hyperarousal (feeling ‘on edge’) Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. You may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.
Hyperarousal often leads to:
- angry outbursts
- sleeping problems (insomnia)
- difficulty concentrating
Other problems Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:
- other mental health problems – such as depression, anxiety or phobias
- self-harming or destructive behaviour – such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse
- other physical symptoms – such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches
PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.
Psychological help will aim at helping you manage the trauma memories and move on with your life. Psychological treatment of PTSD results in proper processing of the memories so, over time, the flashbacks and nightmares gradually disappear.