Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
NB: Information presented here is only for educational purposes. While the information is accurate and up to date, it should NOT be used for self-diagnosis; only a trained psychiatrist is able to offer a mental illness diagnosis.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ?
PTSD is a mental health illness that develops after experiencing or witnessing a life threatening event such as an accident, terror attack or sexual violence. The traumatic event could be
(1) directly experienced,
(2) witnessed in person as it happened to someone else or
(3) even learned (e.g., learning that a violent and traumatic event happened to someone close like a friend or family member).
In some cases, PTSD affects people who are exposed to repeated traumatic events such as first responders who collect human remains or military men who are always on the battlefront.
Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
Most people who go through traumatic events may have a bit of trouble adjusting and coping but after some time, they get better and function normally. However, if symptoms persist for months or years, one could be diagnosed with PTSD. Unlike a broken limb, PTSD symptoms can be hard to notice since it happens in the mind. Symptoms manifest differently in children and adults.
For children 6 years old and younger symptoms include:-
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event.
- Portraying the traumatic event/ aspects of it through their play.
For children over 6 years old, adolescents and adults symptoms may include:-
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through memories as if it was happening for the first time. One could have flashbacks during the day and nightmares in their sleep. This recollection can cause anxiety, fear and suspicion.Physically, one might tremble, sweat and have panic attacks.
- Avoidance of places, people and activities that are reminders of the trauma. One can also tend to stay away from people in general, even those that are not associated with the traumatic event. This avoidance can make one lonely and detached.
- Behavioral changes. This includes reckless and self destructive behaviour such as driving too fast, drug and substance abuse or self harm such as cutting self with a blade. One also becomes easily frightened, irritable and aggressive. It is also common for a person with PTSD to have trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Mood swings. A person suffering from PTSD might feel hopeless, numb, guilty and even ashamed. Sometimes a mood change not related to the traumatic event can manifest itself. It is also common for one to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and it becomes difficult to experience positive emotions such as happiness. One can also have memory problems and fail to remember important aspects of the traumatic event.
Causes & Diagnosis:
PTSD develops in about 1 in 3 people who experience intense trauma. It isn’t so clear why some people develop the condition while others do not, though it is believed that it could be a survival mechanism and that people who develop PTSD have high adrenaline and stress hormone levels.
Below are the causes of PTSD:
- Exposure to intense or long episodes of trauma, actual or threatened death, physical or sexual violence. Examples of such traumatic events could include:
- childhood abuse,
- sexual violence,
- physical assault,
- motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes, terrorist attacks,
- natural disasters such as earthquakes and life threatening medical diagnosis.
These traumatic events could be directly witnessed or witnessed in person as it happened to others. NB: Witnessing does not include events witnessed only on electronic media, movies, pictures etc
- Mental illness. People suffering from other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are at high risk of suffering PTSD if they experience traumatic events
- Genetic factors. Having a close relative who has suffered a mental illness also makes one susceptible to suffering PTSD
- Having a job that exposes one to traumatic events such as military officers and first responders
- Having a history of substance and drug abuse places one at a high risk of PTSD
With PTSD, one might feel like they will never have a normal life again but it can be treated using psychotherapy and medication.
- Psychotherapy. This helps to improve symptoms and teach skills to deal with the trauma. The therapies are mainly CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapies) whose purpose is to change thought patterns destabilizing one’s life through talking about the trauma, and concentrating on where the fear comes from (exposure therapy).
- Medications. Medications offered help address symptoms of PTSD. Medications given can range from antidepressants to anti-anxiety medications.
How can I help someone I know with PTSD?
After surviving a traumatic event, many people exhibit symptoms that are similar to those of PTSD but with time, these symptoms fade away and do not develop to long-term PTSD. Getting help in good time can help to ensure the normal stress after a traumatic event does not develop into post traumatic stress disorder. We all then have a role to play to ensure we help someone who has just suffered a traumatic event or one that is suffering PTSD.
You can help a loved one suffering PTSD in the following ways:
- Get them professional help and treatment
- Encourage and support them so that they do not turn to unhealthy coping methods such as drug and substance abuse
- Learn everything you can about PTSD to be able to handle them and the situation better
- Look out for them and show your concern. Assure them everything will be okay even when they seem to be at their lowest
- Allow them some space once in a while especially when they need it
- Involve them in activities and planning to raise their self esteem and to assure them that their opinions matter
- Listen, validate and most importantly do not judge them.