At LDC, our private GPs are not just here to help with physical ailments such as infections, aches and pains, but also mental health issues too. It’s well known that mental health has an huge impact on physical health, as the two are strongly interlinked, meaning that good mental health is as important as good physical health.
Today, as part of Stress Awareness Month, we’re discussing a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (or PTSD for short), a mental health condition that occurs in some people who have lived through one or more very frightening or distressing events.
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It is very natural to feel afraid during (and following) a terrifying situation. Extreme fear triggers many split-second changes in the body which help defend us against danger, or avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.
Almost everyone will experience a range of reactions after a very shocking and scary event, yet most people recover from this initial period naturally, given time and support. It’s perfectly normal to remain shaken after a traumatic event for a period of time, but these symptoms usually improve over time – this is a normal response to a traumatic event.
Those who continue to experience problems a long time after the event has passed may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
PTSD has a physical and a psychological component, and it is thought to occur in up to 30% of people who have suffered through terrible events, so if you think you or a loved one may have this disorder, you are certainly not alone. It affects around 5% of men and 10% of women at some point during their life, and can occur at any age, including during childhood.
PTSD may result from any situation where a person feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness. Some examples are listed below, although the list is never-ending. It’s also important to realise what one person might not find traumatic, another will.
PTSD does not usually develop after life experiences such as divorces, job losses or failing exams. These situations are certainly extremely upsetting, but they are not usually experienced as being terrifying or extremely frightening.
Here are some possible causes of PTSD:
- Military combat
- Sexual assaults
- Situations that threaten your physical well-being (such as serious road traffic accidents)
- Natural or man-made disasters (including earthquakes)
- Terrorist attacks
These are just some examples, and PTSD may occur in other situations that are similar to the ones we have listed above.
PTSD is common amongst soldiers returning from combat
In most cases, symptoms of PTSD begin within 3 months of the traumatic event, but in some cases, it may be years later before you begin to suffer from this illness. Look out for the following symptoms:
Hypervigilance means always being aware. You may feel anxious all the time and find it difficult to relax, which can become extremely exhausting. You may also find yourself to be irritable, or have outbursts of anger.
Nobody would want to relive a terrible experience over and over again. To avoid this happening, you may find that you tend to avoid places, people, and situations that bring back terrible memories.
- Emotional numbing:
Sometimes, people with PTSD may try to manage strong feelings but numbing or detaching themselves from what’s around them, and by trying not to feel anything at all. They may become isolated, withdrawn, and seem like they are day dreaming a lot.
In addition to the above, people with PTSD are at a higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. They may find it difficult to function at work, and their personal relationships might suffer. They often behave in ways that are not like their ‘old selves’. They may have physical symptoms that are unexplainable, such as aches and pains, nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
Diagnosis of PTSD is best left to an empathetic, compassionate and highly trained professional. If you think you might have PTSD, you should visit your GP, who will be able to assess you, and refer you to a doctor specially trained in treating these disorders.
At your assessment, special criteria will be used to help determine if you have developed PTSD following your experience. It is best to be as open and honest as possible about your symptoms and their effect on your life, and this is why it is vital that you find a health professional that you can trust and confide in.
Diagnosing PTSD can be difficult, as people delay seeking treatment, or do not want to talk openly about their feelings, fearing that they will be stigmatised, or that they will worsen an already horrific condition.
PTSD Prognosis: What Does The Future Hold?
The course of the illness varies. Some people recover quite quickly, while others will experience on-going problems for a long time. There are many factors that influence your recovery. These include:
- The amount of support you have available to you
- The severity (or number) of events that have happened to you
- The presence of ongoing trauma in your life (such as being in an abusive relationship)
- A past history of anxiety or depression, or a mental health problem in a parent
- Suffering abuse during childhood
- The experience, expertise and attitudes of the health professional taking care of you
PTSD can, however, be successfully managed and even cured, no matter how severe it seems, or how long you have it for.
There are many factors that influence your recovery, including the support available to you
There are several options for management of PTSD:
1. Watchful waiting
This means waiting to see if the symptoms improve or get worse without treatment. Sometimes time is all that is needed, but if symptoms worsen, you may need to try one of the other treatments below. It’s important to note, that just because no active treatment is being given, you should still report back to your GP regularly, so your progress – if any – can be recorded.
2. Psychological treatment
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) both show great promise when it comes to treating PTSD.
Drugs such paroxetine or mirtazapine are designed to boost your mood and help you feel better able to cope with your symptoms. They are commonly used as treatments for depression and anxiety. These treatments can be used in conjunction with psychological therapy, and help you to feel more able to cope with the processing work that will be done in therapy sessions
Another medication that may be prescribed is called a benzodiazepine. These medications relax you and can help you to sleep better. Bear in mind though that these medications will only be prescribed for a short period of time, if you are having trouble sleeping.
If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, after which you’ve been struggling to cope, don’t suffer in silence. A consultation with one of our GP’s could help you find a better way of managing your stress and recovering from your trauma. Simply book an future or same day doctor appointment at any of our nine private clinics, where you will be able to discuss any issues with a GP.
By Melissa Dillon