Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a kind of anxiety disorder that is triggered by the reaction to an extremely distressing event. Such events could include a violent attack, sexual abuse, witnessing distressing events such as death, or living though a natural disaster. PTSD impacts roughly 1 in 3 people who suffer from a distressing experience.
Symptoms of PTSD
Have you experienced a traumatic event that is causing you enduring distress or worry? Have you had flashbacks or nightmares about the event? Have you been having trouble sleeping or concentrating?
If you have been experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be suffering from PTSD and should seek help. It is expected to be upset or worry after a difficult experience. However, it is extremely important to seek support if your symptoms are not improving after a few weeks, and if your state has affected your work, relationships, or personal interests.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD is typically triggered by an extremely traumatic event or experience. The anxiety caused by this event often includes reliving and ruminating about the distressing event, and may result in periods of extreme unhappiness, sleep disturbance or difficulty concentrating on daily tasks.
It is important to note that while the disorder can come on immediately after the traumatic event, but it may not develop for years after the event. Complex PTSD is a form of PTSD, where an individual has had a number of severe distressing experiences. Complex PTSD may not come on for years after the events, for example if the event occurred early in childhood. Individuals suffering from Complex PTSD may experience similar symptoms to general PTSD.
How treatments work for PTSD
There are a variety of treatments available to those suffering from PTSD. The most effective treatment may depend on the severity of the disorder, and the time lapse between the traumatic event and onset of symptoms.
Before seeking external treatment, it can be beneficial to monitor your symptoms after the distressing event, to see if they improve with time. If your symptoms persist or worsen, various forms of psychotherapy can be effective in treating PTSD. These include group therapy, or trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Typical CBT sessions involve talking through one’s problems with a certified clinician, with the aim to understand how one’s own thoughts impact their negative emotions and behaviours. Patient and clinician then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s feelings and experiences.
Exposure therapy can also be effective in treating PTSD. The aim of exposure therapy is to ‘unlearn’ the fear and unpleasant emotions that are associated with memories of the traumatic event. Patient and clinician work together to increase control of thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma, by repeatedly discussing the event in details. This process, know as desensitisation, allows the individual to better control their reaction to the negative memories.
Eye movement densensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is another type of treatment based on desensitisation techniques, that aims to change reactions to traumatic memories. This type of therapy involves focussing on other stimuli, whilst thinking or talking through the distressing memories.
Medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, are also used to treat PTSD in adults. They act by restoring an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for many of the negative emotions and observable symptoms associated with PTSD. Medications can be prescribed if therapy has not been effective in reducing symptoms.