March 7: TELECONFERENCE ON POST – TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
Presented by the Depression and Anxiety Support Group with special guest speaker Colinda Linde.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group in conjunction with Power-Talk presented South Africa’s FIRST live Press Tele-Conference for selected regional publications yesterday.
We were able to link the guest speaker, Dr. Colinda Linde and 40 other press colleagues from around South Africa on an inter-active Tele-conference.
The topic for yesterday’s conference was Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder which was well attended. What follows is a summary of the program contents:
(Stats) In this day and age with crime rates soaring, P.T.S.D. is quickly becoming one of the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorders. It is believed to effect about ten percent of the population, but this figure could be slightly higher in South Africa.
WHO IS AFFECTED BY P.T.S.D. ?
Not all people who have experienced trauma will develop P.T.S.D. or require treatment; some recover with the help of family, friends or other support. But many do require professional help to successfully recover from the symptoms that can result from experiencing, witnessing or participating in an overwhelmingly traumatic event.
(Although the understanding of P.T.S.D. is based primarily on studies of trauma in adults, P.T.S.D. can occur in children as well. It is well known that traumatic occurrences –domestic abuse, loss of parents, war and natural disasters – often have a profound impact on the lives of children. Further research is needed in order to establish the special characteristics of the disorder in children that distinguish if from P.T.S.D. in adults. For example, it is not clear how the development and resolution of the condition are affected by the type of trauma, age of onset and type of treatment used.) – some symptoms we are able to pinpoint include: repetitive play, nightmares (usually of monsters etc.), and sudden fear of the dark.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF P.T.S.D.?
Symptoms of the disorder are broken up into three categories: Intrusive, Avoidant, and Hyperarousal.
Intrusive symptoms are diagnosed when the victim is unable to keep the traumatic experience out of mind. Vivid memories accompanied by painful emotions take over the victim’s attention as they repeatedly relive the experience. At times, the re-experiencing occurs in nightmares that appear so real the person wakes up screaming in terror. At other times, the re-experiencing comes as a sudden painful onslaught of emotions that seemingly have no cause, but are usually linked to the traumatic event.
Often victims feel as if their emotions are numbed and report an inability to feel or express emotion. As a result, relationships with other people may suffer. These avoidant symptoms deny the individual of feeling any real emotion, and thus reduce the chances of flashbacks occurring. Family and friends of the victim may feel cut off as a result. Not only are emotional ties avoided, but also certain places and people associated with the traumatic event. Over time, the person may become so fearful of particular situations, that his or her daily life may be characterised by attempts to avoid these situations.
P.T.S.D. can also cause sufferers to act as if they are continually threatened by the trauma that caused their illness. Sufferers often become irritable, even when not provoked, and may have trouble concentrating or remembering current information. Sufferers may develop exaggerated ‘startle reactions’ and become “jittery” and anxious. Panic attacks may also develop. During these attacks, their throats tighten, while breathing and heart rate increase dramatically, resulting in feelings of nausea and dizziness - Hyperarousal
Many people suffering with P.T.S.D. also attempt to rid themselves of painful re-experiences, loneliness (from avoiding close emotional relationships), and panic attacks by abusing alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication. Substance abuse helps to blunt emotions and allows the traumatic event to be temporarily forgotten. A person with P.T.S.D. may show poor control over impulses and may therefore be at risk for suicide.
TREATMENT OF P.T.S.D.
Dr.Colinda Linde says that the 1st step in treatment is to explain to the patient that the anxiety experienced as a result of P.T.S.D. will not persist indefinitely, but rather that it is a process that they are going through and that they will get better.
The 2nd step should then be to get the patient to understand that the Anxiety itself isn’t a threat, but a response.
Another step that Psychologists use is called Cognitive Restructuring. In this process, the psychologist or counsellor attempts to help the person integrate the trauma into their lives.
The most important and probably the most therapeutic step however, is simply getting the patient to talk. The person needs to talk about and work through the event instead of trying to forget about it. Ask the person how they felt and try to listen without interrupting. Don’t tell the person that you understand or that you know what they are talking about, rather say that you can only imagine what it must have been like.
Finally, be patient with the person. Don’t get frustrated if they do not seem to be getting better. Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, and don’t tell them to “pull themselves together”. This will only serve to perpetuate the person’s feelings of guilt in not being able to cope with the problem. Men in particular may feel guilty with this seeming inability to cope.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group has also put together a six step program to help the victim help themselves:
THE SIX STEPS TOWARD RECOVERY
STEP 1: Understand the symptoms – they are part of the disease and will eventually pass.
STEP 2: Feelings of guilt are normal – they represent a way of taking back control. Help from a counsellor may be beneficial.
STEP 3: Talk about your experiences in detail – your thoughts, feelings and fears. Tell people you are close to that you want to talk about it.
STEP 4: Take control of your life as soon as possible. It is not advisable to go for sleep therapy, on leave or on holiday. It is best to face fears and feelings than avoid them.
Exercise (mild aerobic work-outs may help with feelings of depression).
Do what you normally do – if you find this difficult, get the support of family and friends. It is also important not to push yourself to the point of failure, rather take things slowly and gradually.
STEP 5: Understand that you are going through a process – you will get better, but it may take some time.
STEP 6: Help those around you to cope with both their trauma and your trauma. Your family and friends may also be struggling with what you’ve been through.
There are excellent clinics across the country – please try and get help. You may only need a few sessions with a therapist or counsellor.