Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known by its acronym PTSD, is a serious psychological reaction that can occur in someone who has suffered an overwhelmingly terrifying event or ordeal in which they faced a threat of, or actually underwent, grave physical harm. Many such cases are associated with war or some event that seriously threatened the affected person’s life or safety.
Most people who experience a traumatic event – for example a serious accident, assault, war, torture, abuse or some severe natural disaster that placed their life or safety at risk – will naturally suffer psychological and emotional reactions. Usually these reactions – involving fear, anger, shame, guilt or excessive sadness – resolve with the passage of time . A few people, however, develop the long lasting condition we now term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The symptoms and signs of PTSD may appear soon after the traumatic event – or they may only develop months or even years later.
Clinical Features of PTSD
The main symptoms features are
- Being constantly on edge. This results in irritability, poor concentration, difficulty in falling asleep or waking up in the early hours of the morning. People thus affected are easily startled and appear to be constantly on the lookout for danger
- Reliving the traumatic event through nightmares or recurring flashbacks. These flashbacks of memory can be triggered by particular events or stimuli such as sights or sounds associated with the original event. They are often accompanied by intense emotional or physical reactions such as palpitations, sweating, tremors or panic.
- Avoiding reminders of the event. Those suffering from PTSD tend to avoid people, places and activities that are associated with the traumatic event – for example, affected former soldiers may keep away from reunions and parades, losing interest in daily life and become detached from friends and family.
PTSD can progress to depression and abuse of alcohol or addictive drugs.
Treatment for PTSD
People affected by PTSD can be helped by support, counselling and medications. Obtaining relief of their symptoms and improving their relationships, especially with their families and loved ones, is possible. Helping them to obtain and maintain stable employment is an important goal.
Several strategies are involved in the management of someone with PTSD. These include
- providing them with a proper understanding of the condition
- counselling, usually by a trained psychologist, with the goal of learning to recall the traumatic event without the associated distress
- joining support groups where they can network with others suffering from PTSD
- undertaking treatment programmes such as anger management
- learning relaxation techniques
- medications (these include antidepressants and anxiolytics)
- reducing dependence on alcohol and addictive drugs
Effect of PTSD on families
PTSD has an impact not only on those actually suffering from the condition, but also on their near and dear ones. Families of sufferers may have to cope with unstable emotional behaviour and job instability. Today, there are support organisations for the families of those with PTSD.