Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In recent times, there appears to have been an increasing number of natural disasters occurring, such as the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China, and the tsunami experienced in Samoa last year. Following such events, attention is paid to victims’ physical needs, such as injuries, food, and shelter. However, after such events the psychological impact of trauma is often overlooked. This is often true of any trauma we experience, whether it is natural or manmade, such as a road accident, being assaulted, or experiencing some form of abuse. Following such events, some people may experiences distress, nightmares, or have repetitive and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event. These reactions are common but generally pass after few days or weeks. However, a number of people may go on to experience more disabling and long-term psychological consequences, such as anxiety or depression. It has been found that up to 20% of people may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following exposure to a traumatising event. Further, approximately half of those experiencing PTSD also develop depression. Due to the distress caused by PTSD, some people may increase their alcohol intake or use street drugs as a way of escaping their symptoms. Unfortunately, this often leads to further anxiety and low mood.

Common symptoms experienced by those who have PTSD or a psychological reaction to trauma include: experiencing unwanted distressing thoughts or images of the event; nightmares; strong emotional responses to reminders of the trauma (e.g., feeling overwhelmed when around men whose body shape is similar to someone that assaulted them); and powerful physical reactions to reminders (e.g., feeling shaky and hot). People may experience flashbacks, which are strong intrusive memories that feel like the event is happening again. Flashbacks may include re-experiencing sounds, physical sensations, smells, and the emotions felt at the time of the trauma. Other frequent symptoms include, problems getting to or staying asleep, concentration difficulties, increased anger, being more easily startled and jumpy, feeling constantly on alert for danger, and feeling numb or having difficulty connecting to emotions. Understandably, people with PTSD will begin to avoid any reminders of the event, including people and places. They may withdraw socially and may feel disconnected from others. For some who survive a traumatic event, they may experience distressing levels of grief and guilt.

About half of those with PTSD may recover without treatment in the first year following a traumatic event. However, if someone has had trauma symptoms for longer than six months following the event and the symptoms have not improved, then it would be advisable to discuss this with a doctor. With effective treatment the majority of people get better. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are two psychological treatments that research trails have noted as effective interventions for trauma reactions, including PTSD. Both aim to reduce trauma symptoms by helping the sufferer experience the trauma memories in a less disturbing way. That is, trauma memories often feel like they are “frozen” in time along with all the intense feelings experienced during the trauma. CBT and EMDR help to unfreeze such memories so that they are less overwhelming and less vivid. This helps the person perceive the memories in a different way that may lead to less repetitive intrusive thoughts. CBT helps people view the event and themselves in a less distressing way and helps the person rebuild their lives by reducing avoidance. If you or someone you know is are struggling with trauma symptoms, then the self-help book “Overcoming Traumatic Stress” by Herbert and Wetmore is an excellent guide towards recovery. However, some people may benefit further from seeing a clinical psychologist.


Comments are closed.