Trauma is usually defined as experiencing or witnessing a scary, disturbing or shocking event. The nature of the traumatic injury can be physical, mental or emotional. Trauma is subjective for different people, i.e. everyone processes and reacts differently to different traumas. Most of us recover from the initial symptoms or after-effects of a traumatic event quickly, but some of us don’t. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the disorders that is seen in people affected by a traumatic event. Such events are, but not limited to:
- Participation in war or military combat
- Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunami, etc.
- Terrorist encounters and incidences
- Serious accidents
- Physical and sexual assault in childhood
- Unexpected loss of a loved one
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Why is that? Well, we don’t know for sure. Our neurobiology, genetics and physical surroundings can play a role. Still, some risk factors for PTSD are:
- Being a woman
- Having a difficult and traumatic childhood
- Feeling extremely fearly or hopeless in life
- Dealing with excessive stress for a long period of time
- Lack of support from your surroundings
- Having a history of substance abuse or mental illness
Patients with PTSD display characteristic symptoms of different kinds. They are as follows:
- Re-experiencing symptoms: These symptoms occur when the person is forced to recall or remember the traumatic event. They include getting flashbacks of the event, nightmares and depressive thoughts. These memories cause physical and emotional turmoil to the person, sometimes of the same intensity as the actual traumatic event.
- Avoidance (or numbing) symptoms: In this set of symptoms, the person tries to stay away from the place or object of their trauma or the people who inflicted trauma on them. This leads to them isolating themselves in order to feel safe. They may become emotionally “numb” and not partake in activities that they enjoyed before.
- Arousal symptoms: PTSD may cause a person to become hyperalert. The symptoms include always being on the edge or easily startled. People also have trouble sleeping because of this, since they always want to be on guard. This also results in angry outburst episodes.
- Cognition and mood symptoms: When a person with PTSD starts to isolate themself, they start to show symptoms of negative thinking and feelings of guilt. Some have trouble recalling the exact details of their trauma.
Children and teens may show different or more intensified symptoms. They include wetting the bed, selective mutism, being extremely clingy to the parent, disruptive or destructive behaviour and thoughts of revenge.
According to health practitioners who do the diagnosis, for PTSD a person should show all of the following symptoms a minimum of for 30 days:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
The treatment for PTSD is a blend of medications (mainly antidepressants) and psychotherapy (“talk” therapy). Once again, the choice of treatment depends on the person and what best works for them. One helpful therapy is known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where a person is encouraged to face their trauma slowly and safely and write or talk about it openly. A therapist may also help a PTSD patient with restructuring their memories of the event in order to process their feelings of guilt and shame associated with it.
If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it is important to remember that you’re not alone. There is no shame in seeking help from your doctor, family and loved ones. Your doctor will provide you with treatment options so you can feel better. Apart from that, you need to bring your focus back on your well being. Completing small, realistic goals everyday is a good way to slowly transition back to normal. Know that it is okay to search for or create a safe space for yourself. Writing down your thoughts or talking to someone you know is a good way to reduce your mental burden. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you have PTSD.
Researchers are doing their job of learning more about PTSD and how it can be treated as well as prevented. Our job, as a healthy human being, is to help those who need our help and be kind to people whenever we can. PTSD is a silent disorder, and you may not always know who has it. If we cannot help them directly, we can do our part indirectly by creating a happier, kinder and safer environment for those who need it.
1. What is PTSD? Available at: https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Handout_What_is_PTSD.pdf. Accessed on 19 November 2020.
2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml. Accessed on 19 November 2020.
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/posttraumaticstressdisorder.html. Accessed on 19 November 2020.