What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. Other symptoms include feeling sadness, fear, or anger, having nightmares and flashbacks, feeling estranged from other people.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
Symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into 4 categories:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Avoidance of reminders
- Negative feelings and thoughts
- Irritability and arousal symptoms
Many people who are exposed to a highly distressing event experience symptoms days following the event, however, individuals with PTSD may develop symptoms within 3 months of the event or even later. These symptoms last for months and sometimes years. This causes significant disturbance to an individual’s day-to-day life. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and genes may make some people more likely to develop PTSD than others. It is important to remember that not everyone who lives through a traumatic event will develop PTSD; most people will not develop the condition.
There are several factors that will contribute towards an individual developing or not developing PTSD. Factors that can increase the risk of a person developing PTSD. These are:
- Living through dangerous events and traumas
- Getting hurt
- Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body
- Childhood trauma
- Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
- Having little or no social support after the event
- Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
- Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse
On the contrary, the factors that can assist with recovery from witnessing or participating in a traumatic event include:
- Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
- Finding a support group after a traumatic event
- Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
- Having a positive coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
The pain treatment options for people with PTSD are medication and psychotherapy. Sometimes a combination of both is required to address all PTSD-related symptoms. It is important to remember that there a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. It is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD. Some people with PTSD may need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms.
The most studied type of medication for treating PTSD are antidepressants, which may help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. Other medications may be helpful for treating specific PTSD symptoms, such as sleep problems and nightmares.
Our mental health specialists work together with patients to find the best medication or medication combination, as well as the right dose.
Talking therapies, also known as psychotherapy, involves talking with a mental health professional to treat mental illness. Psychotherapy can occur one-on-one or in a group. Talk therapy treatment for PTSD usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but it can last longer. Support from family and friends can be an important part of recovery.
Talk therapies teach people helpful ways to react to the frightening events that trigger their PTSD symptoms. Based on this general goal, different types of therapy may:
- Teach about trauma and its effects
- Use relaxation and anger control skills
- Provide tips for better sleep, diet, and exercise habits
- Help people identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other feelings about the event
- Focus on changing how people react to their PTSD symptoms. For example, therapy helps people face reminders of the trauma.
Our experienced psychotherapists are able to help with finding the best way of aiding recovery from PTSD.
It may be very hard to take that first step to help yourself. It is important to realise that although it may take some time, with treatment, you can get better. If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor.
To help yourself while in treatment:
- Talk with your doctor about treatment options
- Engage in mild physical activity or exercise to help reduce stress
- Set realistic goals for yourself
- Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Tell others about things that may trigger symptoms.
- Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately
- Identify and seek out comforting situations, places, and people
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Counselling services and psychiatric treatment
You can book an online appointment with our counsellor and consultant psychiatrist. Please note if you are using Private Medical Insurance, you may need a GP referral first. Please check with your provider.
Reviewed by Dr Daniel Fenton, Clinical Director at The Doctors Clinic Group
Published: June 2020 | Review date: June 2023