In our everyday lives, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences - they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers maybe shot or blown up, and see friends killed or injured. Most people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. In some people, though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. This leaflet is for anyone who has been through a harrowing experience, or who knows someone towhom this has happened.
How does PTSD start?
PTSD can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where we can see that we are in danger, our life is threatened, or where we see other people dying or being injured. Some typical traumatic events would be: • • • • • • • • serious road accidents military combat violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse,robbery, mugging) being taken hostage terrorist attack being a prisoner-of-war natural or man-made disasters being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Even hearing about an the unexpected injury or violent death of a family member or close friend can start PTSD.
When does PTSD start?
The symptoms of PTSD can start after a delay of weeks, or even months. They usually appear within 6 monthsof a traumatic event. What does PTSD feel like? Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience. As well as these understandable emotional reactions, there are three main types of symptoms produced by such an experience: 1. Flashbacks & Nightmares You find yourself re-living the event, again and again. This can happen both as a "flashback" in theday, and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again. You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened - fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain. Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks. For instance, if you had a car crash in the rain, a rainy day mightstart a flashback.
2. Avoidance & Numbing It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you distract yourself. You keep your mind busy by losing yourself in a hobby, working very hard, or spending your time absorbed in crossword or jigsaw puzzles. You avoid places and people that remind you of the trauma, and try not to talk about it. You may deal with the pain ofyour feelings by trying to feel nothing at all - by becoming emotionally numb. You communicate less with other people, who then find it hard to live or work with you. 3. Being "On Guard" You find that you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. You can't relax. This is called "hypervigilance". You feel anxious and find it hard to sleep. Other people will notice that you arejumpy and irritable. Other Symptoms Emotional reactions to stress are often accompanied by: - muscle aches and pains - diarrhoea - irregular heartbeats - headaches - feelings of panic and fear - depression - drinking too much alcohol - using drugs (including painkillers).
Why are traumatic events so shocking?
They undermine our sense that life is fair, reasonably safe, and that we are secure.A traumatic experience makes it very clear that we can die at any time. The symptoms of PTSD are part of a normal reaction to narrowly avoided death.
Does everyone get PTSD after a traumatic experience?
No. But nearly everyone will have the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the first month or so. This is because they help to keep you going, and help you to understand the experience you...