Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an illness that you might get after a serious and frightening experience, including:

  • a natural disaster like an earthquake or flood,
  • war,
  • terrorist attacks,
  • serious accidents,
  • seeing someone die, or
  • violence against you.

The illness makes you re-live the event, which causes distress and difficulty in your day-to-day life. Your symptoms may become worse if you see, hear or smell something that reminds you of the trauma.


What are the symptoms of PTSD and how is it diagnosed?

Some of the symptoms are:

  • having flashbacks, dreams or nightmares about the event,
  • not being able to feel emotions,
  • not feeling connected to other people,
  • not enjoying activities you used to like,
  • staying away from situations that remind you of the event,
  • feeling on edge, being startled easily and always on the look out for threats, and
  • having problems sleeping.

You can get symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days after a traumatic event. For a lot of people, these symptoms become less severe as they come to terms with what has happened. When these symptoms do not go away, there is a possibility you might have PTSD.


If you experience a traumatic event, it is important to get support as soon as you can. Your doctor might not think you need treatment straight away. If you have mild symptoms and you see your doctor within 4 weeks of the trauma, they may ask you to wait a month to see how things go. This is called ‘watch and wait’.


What causes PTSD?

PTSD is caused by traumatic experiences, like the following.

  • Violence against you
  • Childhood abuse
  • A car accident
  • Military combat or being in a war zone
  • A natural disaster like an earthquake or fires
  • Seeing someone die

Not everyone who experiences these things develops PTSD. The risk of getting PTSD depends on how the experience affects you. PTSD is more likely if the traumatic event:

  • is unexpected,
  • goes on for a long time,
  • involves being trapped,
  • is caused by people,
  • causes many deaths,
  • causes mutilation, or
  • involves children.

How is PTSD treated?

There are several different treatment options that you may find helpful.


Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you deal with your symptoms by making changes to how you think and act. The therapist may ask you to do activities or remember things that you find difficult to try to help you deal with your symptoms.


Stress management

This helps you to develop skills such as:

  • relaxation,
  • assertiveness,
  • positive self-talk, and
  • stopping negative emotions.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR helps the symptoms of PTSD. You will make eye movements while thinking about the traumatic event. Therapists think that this works by making your brain deal with painful memories in a different way.


Medication

Medication is not helpful for most people with PTSD. But your doctor might offer you medication if:

  • you find it hard to sleep,
  • you have another mental illness or
  • you would prefer to avoid therapy.