What is PTSD?
After a distressing event, it’s normal to have trouble sleeping or to struggle readjusting to everyday life, but if these symptoms last for a period over a month, you may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder triggered by very difficult, frightening and upsetting events. Although often associated with war veterans, PTSD can develop following any event (or series of events) that has been overwhelming.
PTSD can affect anyone, including people who have had indirect exposure to a distressing event or repeated exposure to graphic details of trauma.
How does PTSD develop?
PTSD usually develops following a traumatic or distressing event – or after a prolonged traumatic experience (referred to as complex-PTSD).
Some examples might be:
- A traumatic birth
- An abusive relationship
- A natural disaster
- Witnessing a violent death
- A terrorist attack
There are certain factors that can make you more likely to develop PTSD. For example, if you’ve experienced depression or anxiety in the past or if you haven’t received support following a difficult event. Having a parent with mental health issues can also increase your chances of developing PTSD.
It’s still not clear why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. However, research points to a biological predisposition – with the development of PTSD being a type of survival mechanism, caused by high adrenaline levels and physical and hormonal changes that happen in the brain.
Signs and symptoms of PTSD
If you’re suffering from PTSD, you might be avoiding situations or people that remind you of what happened, or you might have heightened reactions to loud or unexpected noises or movements.
The disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. These categories are defined according to how much your symptoms are influencing your day-to-day life.
Sometimes, PTSD will be described under the following categories:
- Delayed-onset PTSD – if your symptoms occur more than 6 months after the distressing event
- Complex-PTSD – if you experienced trauma at an early age or it lasted for a long time
- Birth trauma – occurs after a traumatic childbirth experience
- Vivid flashbacks
- Intrusive thoughts or images
- Difficulty feeling emotions
- Hyperacusis (reduced tolerance to noise)
- Persistent fear, anger, guilt or shame
- Difficulty with concentration
- Avoiding places that remind you of the event
- Diminished interest in participation of activities and social gatherings
- Reckless or destructive behaviour
- Difficulty falling and/or remaining asleep
Frequently asked questions
You should seek help if you are struggling with flashbacks and intrusive thoughts that relate to a past trauma. You may find that your symptoms are interfering with your ability to manage daily life or you may be noticing patterns in your relationships which can be traced back to past trauma. If you identify any of these signs, it’s important to seek support.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Schema Therapy are all effective treatments for PTSD.
CBT will teach you how to identify and change negative thought patterns and very gradually expose you to situations that trigger your anxiety.
EMDR uses eye movements to help you process the feelings and memories associated with the trauma. Both are short-term approaches to therapy that usually last anywhere between 8 to 16 sessions.
Schema Therapy is a longer-term approach and can be particularly helpful for people who have experienced recurrent trauma in childhood.
Simple PTSD refers to PTSD that is the result of one traumatic episode whereas Complex-PTSD is related to a series of traumatic events that happened over a prolonged period of time. Complex PTSD is often – but not always – related to early life experiences. The treatment for PTSD will usually be the same but depending on the complexity of the trauma, it may be longer.