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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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  • Ralph Graham


    Ralph Graham, Counsellor, Psychotherapist, helping those who are affected by:grief, loss, anxiety, phobias, panic attack.And those who have been traumatised by:crime, assault, sexual abuse and … View Profile

    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety condition that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event.  Examples are accidents, assault, child abuse and war experiences. An experience may contain physical or emotional pain or both so a traumatic event could just as easily be the experience of being abandoned, or a threat to your life or that of others in your presence; it is what is traumatic to you that is significant.

    Most people are able to recover from a traumatic event after a while but a percentage of people find the event or events keep intruding into present life in the form of flashbacks (reliving an incident in the present), nightmares and hyper-vigilance where the person seems to be nervously watchful for signs that another similar event may occur. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD. They are not under the control of the sufferer and can make life very difficult.
    PTSD symptoms can show up for the first time some months or even years after a traumatic incident. Some people can’t remember a time when they did not have these symptoms, for example a person who survived an abusive childhood. Some people find it hard to isolate a particular incident as they may have been abused over a period of years.
    PTSD symptoms can include:

    • Tension and agitation
    • Sleep disturbance including dreams and nightmares
    • 'Flashbacks' - intrusive memories and feelings
    • Emotional detachment - ‘coldness’
    • Social withdrawal
    • Self-preoccupation and/or egocentric behaviour
    • Irritability
    • Avoidance of reminders associated with trauma
    • Moods swings
    • Depression
    • Anxiety, panic attacks
    • Fearfulness
    • Hyper-vigilance - continual alertness for future emotional or physical threats
    • Physiological reaction such as headaches, stomach upsets, rashes
    • Poor concentration, loss of confidence
    • Alcohol and other drug abuse
               Source: Vietnam Vets Association website
    Things in the environment can trigger symptoms; sounds, sights, smells and events that somehow “remind” a person of a traumatic event.
    People’s emotions can be very affected.  They may seem to become distant, shun relationships, become angry a lot. Because the emotional pain is so often felt, people with PTSD sometimes turn to alcohol or drugs and tragically, some even find they eventually cannot face life at all.
    People sometimes live with PTSD for years without letting anyone know. They may be a fireman or a soldier for instance, in a job where people like to think of themselves as strong and dependable and may worry that they will be thought of as weak or crazy. Some health professionals say it is not a mental condition at all but the reaction of person to an extraordinary event. 
    More than one-quarter of a million Australians experience PTSD in any one year and around five per cent of Australians have had PTSD at some point in their lives. (Source: Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health – University of Melbourne   link )  
    It is better to seek treatment and there are a variety of treatments available.
    Talk therapy (psychotherapy).
    Commonly used methods include  
    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – two forms are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE or PET).
    Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is also being used increasingly.
    There are actually a lot of methods being used and trialled world wide but I will not discuss them in this post.

    Psychiatrists and sometimes general practitioners may prescribe medications and these are sometimes used to help a person stay on top of things while they embark on therapy.  

    See a Doctor
    If you have some of the above symptoms and you do not know of anywhere to seek treatment a good starting point is your doctor who should know who can help you in your area.

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