Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition which develops after a person has been involved in, or witnessed, a traumatic event. During the traumatic experience, a person might feel intense fear, helplessness, anxiety or horror. These are normal emotions that someone might feel following a difficult traumatic experience but in people who develop PTSD, these feelings continue long after the original traumatic event has passed.
In some people PTSD develops immediately after the trauma while in other cases the symptoms first appear several months, or even years, after the traumatic experience.
An experience that is traumatic for one person may be less traumatic for another and not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Research suggests that about 30% of people who experience trauma will develop PTSD. The condition can occur at any age. Some people are more likely to develop PTSD. For example, the condition is more common in women than in men and people with a history of depression or anxiety are more likely to develop PTSD.
Many types of experiences may lead to PTSD including experiencing war, terrorism or natural disasters, being the victim of crime, being the victim of rape, experiencing childhood physical or sexual abuse, witnessing the death of another person or witnessing a serious road accident.
People with PTSD will often describe recurring distressing memories, vivid flashbacks or images of the traumatic event, or dreams and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic experience. Other symptoms of PTSD include:
- Attempts to avoid thoughts, places, people, activities or anything which may trigger memories of the trauma
- A sense of feeling emotionally numb or feeling detached from other people
- Difficulties expressing affection
- Pessimistic feelings about the future and difficulties planning for the future
- Problems sleeping and persistent distressing thoughts at night
- Difficulties concentrating or focusing on everyday tasks
- A sense of feeling unsafe, even in places that felt safe before the traumatic event
- Increased general anxiety / extreme alertness
- Irritable or aggressive behaviour
- Problems trusting other people
There are treatments available for those suffering from PTSD. Options for treatment include antidepressant medication and non-drug treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In recent years, a technique known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been found to be very effective in alleviating the symptoms of PTSD. After a few sessions of EMDR therapy, many people have found that the memories of the traumatic event do not upset them as much as before.
The symptoms of PTSD can greatly diminish a person's quality fo life. Those suffering from the aftermath of traumatic experiences should speak with a qualified therapist to begin the process of recovery.
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