What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
People who have experienced or witnessed terrifying events often have memories and flashbacks that trigger bouts of anxiety and fear. These events include physical or sexual assaults, serious accidents, military combat, or natural disasters such as severe earthquakes and tsunamis. With time and proper care, many people get better; the bouts of anxiety and fear reduce and they adjust to daily life.
For some people, however, these flashbacks get worse. The person has uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event, causing severe anxiety and fear. They are unable to carry on with daily function. Such people suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For instance, if someone has been in a near-fatal road accident, they may have vivid recollections of the accident from time to time. These recollections are very real and the person feels like the accident is happening at that very moment. These flashbacks trigger severe bouts of fear and anxiety.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
People with PTSD experience severe anxiety and fear. The most common signs of PTSD are:
Reliving the event: The person has nightmares and vivid flashbacks of the traumatic event, which makes them relive the trauma. This can lead to intense physical reactions such as sweating, palpitations, nausea and panic attacks.
Avoidance: The person tends to avoid conversations, places and situations that are associated with the traumatic event, fearing the distressing memories they may trigger.
Being on the edge: The person is constantly alert and always on the lookout for danger even in safe environments. They have trouble sleeping and are easily startled.
Becoming emotionally detached: The person grows distant from friends and family and loses interest in activities that they once enjoyed.
People with PTSD also tend to develop other mental health issues such as depression, severe anxiety, substance abuse, and in some cases, even suicidal feelings. If you notice these symptoms in someone you know, you should talk to them about the disorder and suggest that they seek professional help.
What causes PTSD?
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed an event that is life-threatening, physically or sexually violent, may develop PTSD. People who are born with a high risk of anxiety or depression are more susceptible. The severity and duration of the trauma one has faced can also be a factor. In some cases, the chances are influenced by the manner in which the brain handles stress. There is no single factor that causes PTSD, and it is normally due to a complex set of reasons.
Getting treatment for PTSD
It is normal to experience symptoms of PTSD immediately after a traumatic event. Most people overcome the distress with the help of family and friends, and are able to move on. However, if the symptoms persist for a long time after the event, then you must see a mental health professional. Treatment of PTSD primarily focuses on therapy, mainly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. Here the person is made to face the thoughts about the traumatic event; these are thoughts that the person normally tries to avoid because of the distress they cause. Repeated exposure to these thoughts reduces the distress that they may cause. PTSD medication is prescribed to help deal with depression and anxiety, and for people who have trouble sleeping.
Caring for someone with PTSD
People with PTSD require a lot of support and patience; it is important that you understand that emotional withdrawal is part of PTSD. Educating yourself about the disorder will give you more perspective on what the sufferer is going through. Offer to attend appointments with a mental health professional; this is both a show of support and means of understanding the disorder better. Moreover, you should encourage them to seek professional help, although it is important that you are not pushy and give them enough space.
Coping with PTSD
If you have symptoms of PTSD, you should meet a mental health professional at the earliest. Treatments are highly effective and the sooner you seek help, the faster your recovery will be. Talking to people close to you, or people with the same problems, can help a great deal in easing the trauma. Maintaining a healthy routine with enough rest, exercise and a healthy diet, can help reduce anxiety.