What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) begins in the aftermath of trauma. This trauma may be experienced directly as the victim, or indirectly as a witness or recipient of traumatic news. In both cases the trauma involves the actual or perceived threat of serious injury or death, and the reaction to it is intense fear, helplessness or horror.
PTSD may begin soon after trauma or there may be a delayed onset with symptoms only beginning 6 months or more after trauma.
Traumatic events can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- human violence,
- natural disasters,
- accidents involving injury or death,
- sudden, unexpected death of a family member or friend,
- diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
Three groups of symptoms can be seen in people suffering from posttraumatic stress:
- re-experiencing symptoms, eg intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks,
- avoidant symptoms, ways used to avoid association with the trauma eg ‘numbing’ effect in general response to people and events, inability to remember aspects of the trauma, a limited range of emotion and a sense of a foreshortened future.
- hyperarousal symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance (on the look out for danger).
- medications, several anti-depressants have proven useful in alleviating PTSD symptoms,
- psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in particular, is widely accepted as useful. An essential aspect of the therapeutic environment is that it provides a safe place for the person to discuss the traumatic event, their fears and reactions to the event, and their symptoms.
- A combination of medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy will likely be helpful for many people.