Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is post traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition which occurs after an emotionally traumatic event. It is characterized by anxiety and recurring flashbacks to a traumatic event. It is quite common among soldiers returning from battle, in people who have witnessed an accident or natural disaster, or after assault. People with PTSD often relive these events in flashbacks and nightmares, or as overwhelming thoughts. This is often accompanied by a loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, emotional numbness, and feelings of guilt. Treatment can be achieved through psychological counseling and medication. Most people with PTSD experience significant improvement in their symptoms with psychotherapy.

Risks

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after exposure to one or more traumatic events, such as an assault, car accidents, natural disasters or acts of warfare. It is most common after an event during which the person felt their life was in danger. Though most people will be severely affected by these events, most people do not develop PTSD. Anyone who is in a life-threatening situation is at risk of incurring PTSD. More women than men will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. Certain professions are associated with a higher risk of PTSD. Those at risk from work-related PTSD include police personnel, firefighters, soldiers, paramedics, nurses and doctors.

Symptoms

The symptoms of PTSD usually start within 6 months of the event, and are not necessarily present in the time immediately following the event. The most common symptom is 'flashbacks', episodes during which the person relives the traumatic experience. During these episodes, the person has a racing heart, a dry mouth, and may sweat and feel as afraid as they were in the original situation. Other symptoms include nightmares, and either recurring thoughts about the event, or conversely, totally avoidance of thinking about it. People with PTSD may become anxious, on-edge and irritable. Many people with PTSD develop sleeping difficulties due to anxiety around these thoughts. Some people develop depression, and have a low mood, emotional numbness and a loss of interest in events around them.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made by an experienced doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist based on the presence of the symptoms in someone who has experienced a traumatic situation.

Treatment

Treatment of PTSD is complex and often takes a long time. Various forms of counselling, including psychotherapy and group therapy, are often effective in helping a person come to terms with their experience. Other treatment methods include a technique called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which is a training technique to help people cope with and overcome overwhelming thoughts. If the PTSD has caused depression or persistent anxiety, medications to treat these conditions may also be helpful.

Prevention

Social support or psychological help in the hours and days following the traumatic event may prevent PTSD. Any intervention during this time should focus on security, empathy and stress relief.

Other names for post traumatic stress disorder

  • PTSD