What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD is a severe form of anxiety disorder that develops in up to 30% of people who experience major trauma such as war, rape, physical violence, a hostage situation, or terrorist attack. It is the fourth most common form of mental illness in the country.
Many of us have experienced a traumatic event that leaves us shaken, hurt, upset and in shock. A gruesome accident, violent robbery, or a near drowning typically causes disbelief, anger, agitation, and distress for a few days or weeks.
The trauma of the experience can make it difficult to work, sleep, or socialise with friends and family. Depending on the severity of the experience, the disturbing memories of the trauma usually fade away and allow us to get on with our lives.
However, when these memories persist for a more extended period and cause extreme anxiety, it results in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
PTSD can affect every type of person regardless of their age, sex, or emotional or mental strength. Without proper therapy, PTSD can ruin every facet of your life and turn you into a completely dysfunctional individual.
Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD
If the intense fear and anxiety caused by trauma last between 3 days and up to 1 month, it is classified as an acute stress disorder. The symptoms of acute stress disorder are similar to those of PTSD. They occur in up to 21% of survivors of road accidents and up to 50% of victims of assault, rape, and mass shootings. These survivors tend to relive the pain, emotion, fear, and distress of the traumatic episode through nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
About half of those who develop an acute stress disorder will achieve full recovery. However, those whose symptoms persist for more than one month will go on to develop PTSD.
The emotional and psychological scars of PTSD cause adverse mental and physical symptoms, which can last for several months or even years. Despite making a conscious effort to forget the trauma, people with PTSD are constantly haunted by vivid memories of the original event, which triggers extreme anxiety, fear, distress and depression.
Risk Factors For PTSD
PTSD can affect anyone who was a victim or witness of a traumatic event. However, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to PTSD than adults. The likelihood of developing PTSD also increases with the duration, frequency and severity of the trauma. People who experience direct physical violence such as rape, torture or assault are even more at risk of developing PTSD.
Other risk factors that are likely to determine the development, duration, and severity of PTSD are:
- Previous history of abuse or trauma especially during childhood
- Additional stress after the trauma, e.g. dealing with the death of a loved one
- A family history of psychosis and other mental illness
- Alcohol, drugs and substance abuse
- The absence of social support from family or friends
- Persons with learning disabilities
- People regularly exposed to violence
- Persons with other emotional disorders or depression
Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Signs of PTSD usually appear within three months of experiencing trauma, but they can also occur years afterwards. These symptoms can be triggered by sounds, objects, smells, words or situations that remind you of the traumatic experience you suffered.
The symptoms of PTSD vary from one person to another, and also from time to time in the same individual. It typically takes most people about six months to make a full recovery. However, other people can develop chronic PTSD which can last for many years.
The symptoms of PTSD usually fall into the following categories:
- Reliving the trauma through vivid and intrusive memories
- Frequent nightmares about the trauma
- Flashbacks that replay the event over and over again
- Physical and mental anguish when memories return
- Avoiding places, objects, people, or anniversaries that trigger memories of the event
- Resisting thoughts, memories, or feelings about the event
- Memory loss of the actual trauma
- Withdrawal and loss of interest in normal activities
Arousal And Reactivity:
- Irritability and agitation
- Exaggerated response to loud or startling sounds
- Anger and violent outbursts
- Lack of concentration
- Disregard for personal safety and self-destructive behaviour
- Constantly on guard and restless
Adverse Changes In Cognition And Mood:
- Overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt
- Negative thoughts about yourself or others
- Lack of hope
- Inability to sustain relationships
- Detachmentment and estrangement from family and friends
How PTSD Is Diagnosed
There is no specific test for diagnosing PTSD. This type of anxiety disorder can be challenging to diagnose because victims of trauma frequently suppress their thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, extreme trauma often leads to a loss of memory of the actual event, especially in children. Most victims are also reluctant to discuss or try to recall the trauma for fear of reliving the experience all over again.
For you to have PTSD, the symptoms must last for at least one month and should be severe enough to negatively affect your work, relationships, mood, and lifestyle. If you have frequent disturbing thoughts, fear that you may hurt yourself or others, or cannot control your actions, then you likely have PTSD.
PTSD can be assumed when you experience all of these symptoms for at least one month:
- One re-experience symptom
- One avoidance symptom
- Two reactivity and arousal symptoms
- Two negative changes in mood and cognition
Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness or emotional fragility; the toughest and strongest of individuals can and do suffer from PTSD. If you have undergone a traumatic event and continue to experience significant anxiety and distress, do not blame yourself or suppress your feelings. The more you try to forget the trauma, the worse your anxiety will be.
Reach out today for help and get yourself treated. With the right therapy and support, you can overcome the traumatic memories and intrusive thoughts that making living with PTSD a never-ending nightmare.
Don’t suffer any more than you have to. Don’t let yourself go through hell when you can get help and make a full recovery.
PTSD can be a severely debilitating mental illness, but it cannot beat anyone determined to fight and gain back his/her life! Many people who have suffered from severe forms of PTSD have received help and permanently eliminated PTSD from their lives.