Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction to experiencing or witnessing a significantly stressful, traumatic or shocking event or events. This might follow a war, a natural disaster such as earthquake, flood or fire, a car crash, a rape or other physical or sexual abuse. Some experiences that occur in the early years of life can contribute to PTSD but it is important to note that these experiences do not always result in PTSD.
'Shellshock' - the distress experienced by many war veterans - was an earlier name for PTSD.
Is it PTSD or a related condition?
The most common reactions to trauma are depression and anxiety.
Acute Stress disorder, a disorder which is similar to PTSD often occurs in the first month following trauma. By definition, PTSD cannot occur until one month following trauma.
Sometimes there is a delay of many months or even years prior to the onset of PTSD.
Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Intrusive thoughts and images
With PTSD the unpleasant feelings, thoughts and images associated with the trauma keep coming back. There may be nightmares or bad dreams. The sufferer may feel it is all happening again or have vivid memories or 'flashbacks' of the original event or events. These can happen without a trigger or can be triggered by sights, smells or something that looks similar to the original event or events. They are sometimes accompanied by intense feelings such as guilt, grief, fear or anger.
Individuals with PTSD may try to avoid any situations, people or events that remind them of the trauma. Families may be puzzled by the person's withdrawal into themselves. People who experienced PTSD may be unable to feel emotions, even for the people they love or care for. They may feel detached from others and may lose interest in things they once enjoyed. This can lead to misunderstanding, estrangement and further withdrawal. Avoidance can lead to alcohol or drug overuse, depression and eating difficulties as the sufferer tries to escape from the memories.
People with PTSD may be constantly watchful or jumpy. Their sleep is often disturbed and they may feel irritable and angry with themselves and others. Memory, concentration and decision-making are often affected.
Who can be affected by PTSD?
PTSD can affect people of any age, gender or culture. It is common among soldiers and refugees who have endured major traumas such as floods, fires or earthquakes. People who have experienced childhood sexual or physical abuse may also experience PTSD.
Children and PTSD
Children may be more vulnerable to PTSD than adults who have experienced the same stress or trauma. Their response to trauma may also be different. Disorganised or agitated behaviour following trauma is common. They may have nightmares, and they may relive the trauma through repetitive play, through artwork or through out-of-character behaviour including bedwetting or other behaviours usually found in younger children. Sometimes headaches or stomach aches are reported.