Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is PTSD?
Post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can occur in those who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as sexual or physical assault, violence, natural disasters, war, accidents, terrorist incident, etc. In the event of a traumatic experience, it is common for the person to have many distressing thoughts and memories about what happened, which can be overwhelming. Most people can cope with these thoughts and memories quite well. However, these thoughts and memories can lead to PTSD in some cases. People with PTSD experience strong, distressing ideas and emotions associated with their trauma that persist long after the event is over. They may experience memories, fears, or anger; they might feel sadness, terror, or rage; and they could feel numb or alienated from others. These symptoms can sometimes result in extremely distressing and difficult lives, as those with PTSD often attempt to avoid situations where they would normally encounter a traumatic stimulus.
The most typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appear within the first three months after an incident. However, they do not begin in some situations until many years later. The severity and duration of the illness vary. Some individuals recover in 6 months, while others endure for much longer. The following are some of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
1) Intrusive memories
Intrusive thoughts, such as recurring, uncontrollable memories; disturbing dreams; or recurrences of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may involve the trauma being relieved and causing physical distress. The individual may feel the fear and terror they felt when the event occurred.
2) Avoidance behaviours
Attempts to avoid people or places that trigger distressing memories of the event. One may avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic experience, and emotional numbing is common. It may be difficult or impossible to recall aspects of the traumatic experience.
3) Negative changes in thinking and mood
Individuals may have difficulty remembering key aspects of the traumatic experience. They may be unable to recall things that they actually experienced. The individual’s view of the world may become permanently distorted, and decreased ability to experience positive emotions are common. They may lose interest in enjoyable activities or lack motivation.
4) Arousal and reactivity
Arousal and reactive symptoms may include difficulty in sleeping, irritability and anger outbursts, hyper-vigilance (heightened awareness of one’s surroundings), a feeling of being “on edge” or easily startled, self-destructive behaviour (such as substance abuse), and even physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, or diarrhea. In some instances, PTSD may cause individuals to experience dissociative states in which they feel detached from themselves or their surroundings. This can happen when the individual feels overwhelmed by memories of their experience. The severity of PTSD symptoms varies. Some individuals experience mild symptoms, while others experience severe emotional distress and functional impairment.
PTSD Causes and Risk Factors
Everyone responds to traumatic events differently. Each person has their own set of skills to manage fear, tension, and the danger posed by the event. Traumatic events can affect people in many ways, and some ways may be more harmful than others. The following factors are thought to influence how an individual responds to a traumatic event:
1) The severity of the trauma
The more severe, prolonged, or invasive the trauma is, the greater the likelihood of developing Post-trauma stress disorder.
2) Age and developmental factors
Research indicates that people under the age of 15 or over age 60 may be less likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic experience.
3) Prior trauma
The risk of developing PTSD increases in individuals who have experienced past traumatic events.
4) Difficulties in social relationships
Individuals who have experienced trauma and also lack support from family or friends may be at a higher risk.
5) Genetic factors
Research indicates that individuals with a history of psychological disorders in their family may be at higher risk for PTSD. Researchers are investigating genetic factors that may fuel the development of PTSD.
You can develop PTSD when you see or even think about a dangerous event. This disorder can happen to anyone at any age. When you have post-traumatic stress disorder, you relive the event repeatedly. You may feel stressed or frightened even when you’re no longer in danger.
How PTSD Treatment Works
As with many other mental disorders, the primary goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may need treatment right away to keep your symptoms under control.
Treatment can last for a few months to a year or more. During this time, you and your counsellor will work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.
There is a range of effective treatments for PTSD, including medication, psychotherapy, and both of these treatments in combination.
Medication can ease some of the symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety and depression. Some medications also help reduce nightmares and flashbacks. PTSD medications do not work immediately. It can take several weeks or months to see whether they are helping. To treat post-traumatic stress disorder, physicians employ antidepressants to manage anxiety and its associated symptoms, including:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro), and fluoxetine (Prozac).
Antidepressants, such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and mirtazapine (Remeron).
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil).
Prazosin for nightmares.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as phenelzine (Nardil).
Experts discourage using medications such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other sedatives because of the high risk of abuse and dependence.
Therapy can help you process your feelings and reactions to the trauma and work through feelings of guilt or blame. There are several types of psychotherapy that have been found to be useful for people with PTSD:
a) Cognitive restructuring
Cognitive-behavioural therapies, such as cognitive restructuring and coping skills therapy, can help you cope with PTSD symptoms by changing the negative thinking and behaviour patterns that are causing them.
b) Exposure therapy
Exposure therapy aims to reduce fear by exposing you to a traumatic event safely. With this kind of therapy, you talk about the trauma with your counsellor or therapist. You also may be asked to write about the event or visit places that remind you of it.
c) Eye Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) focuses on changing the way your brain reacts to the traumatic event. During EMDR, you focus on an external stimulus, such as hand taps or sounds. At the same time, you look at a series of images that remind you of the trauma. The goal is to process your feelings surrounding the event, causing changes in how your brain responds to the event. People often report their memories of the trauma are less vivid after undergoing EMDR treatment. Medications cannot cure PTSD. But, they may reduce symptoms for a time so that you can work through your feelings in psychotherapy. If you stop taking the medication too soon, your symptoms may return.
3) A combination of both medication and psychotherapy
People with PTSD often need a combination of both medication and psychotherapy. There is no best way to treat PTSD, so the right combination depends on your specific symptoms and situation.
No matter what type of treatment you choose, it can take some time to determine whether it’s helpful for you. You can work with your therapist or counsellor to decide whether the treatment is right for you.
Most people show significant improvement over time, although some may experience a delay before feeling better. It’s important to have a support system during treatment to talk with friends or family about how you’re feeling and cope with stress.
Check out our experienced therapists at ReDiscover who can help you treat your PTSD!