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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

WHAT IS PTSD?

Traumatic experiences can happen to anyone, a serious accident, a victim of a crime or natural disasters. It is normal, following these experiences, to feel very distressed.  People often struggle to get the thoughts of the trauma out of their mind and may experience nightmares. This can last a few days or weeks. Allowing enough time to heal physically and emotionally is very important to recovery. Some people find it helpful to discuss their experiences, others prefer not to.  Either strategy is fine, provided that you feel able to choose what you do.

Up to 20% of people who have been exposed to a traumatic event go on to develop a problem called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

In most cases, the symptoms develop during the first month after a traumatic event but in a minority of cases, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms start to appear.

Some people with PTSD experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they get worse. Other people have constant severe symptoms.

The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals, but generally fall into the categories described below.

Re-experiencing

Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD.

This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of:

  • flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • repetitive and distressing images or sensations
  • physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling

Some people have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them coming to terms with the event.

For example, they may wonder why the event happened to them and if they could have done anything to stop it, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.

Avoidance and emotional numbing

Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD.

This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.

Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.

Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.

This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.

Hyperarousal (feeling 'on edge')

Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. 

This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal often leads to:

  • irritability
  • angry outbursts
  • sleeping problems (insomnia)
  • difficulty concentrating

PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems or relationship difficulties.

TREATMENT FOR PTSD

Watchful waiting

If you have had PTSD symptoms for less than four weeks or they are relatively mild, your GP might suggest an approach called 'watchful waiting' before offering you any treatment. This involves monitoring your symptoms yourself to see if things improve over time. In this case you should be offered a follow-up appointment within one month.

Treatments we provide that can help you

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that aims to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.

Trauma-focused CBT uses a range of psychological techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event.

For example, your therapist may ask you to confront your traumatic memories by thinking about your experience in detail.

During this process, your therapist helps you cope with any distress you feel while identifying any unhelpful thoughts or misrepresentations you have about the experience.

Your therapist can help you gain control of your fear and distress by helping you to change the negative way you think about your experience (for example, feeling you're to blame for what happened, or fear that it may happen again).

You may also be encouraged to gradually restart any activities you have avoided since your experience, such as driving a car if you had an accident.

You'll usually have weekly sessions of trauma-focused CBT. Sessions usually last for around 60 to 90 minutes.