Traumatic events in today’s society can include mass disasters or more personal experiences such as sexual or physical abuse or even motor vehicle accidents. It is normal to experience fear, anger and other emotions during and after a trauma, but some people get ‘stuck’, meaning they are unable or find it more difficult to move beyond the event and heal. This condition is known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
What is PTSD?
PTSD may be short-term or can become a long-term chronic condition. In most cases, symptoms begin within a few weeks or months of the traumatic experiences, but PTSD can occur years later. Children, teens and adults can all develop PTSD. In many cases this condition is triggered by combat or exposure to war conditions, physical or sexual assault, abuse, or even something like an auto accident. PTSD can occur after a single horrific experience or after repeated traumas. People who have little or no social support after the traumatic event seem more likely to develop PTSD, but this is not always the case.
Symptoms of PTSD
Typical symptoms of PTSD include:
- Flashbacks – reliving the trauma over and over again. Flashbacks often include physical symptoms like sweating or a racing pulse similar to a panic attack
- Chronic insomnia
- Frightening thoughts, including repetitive thinking of ‘what if’ scenarios in which the trauma is relived in the mind with varying outcomes
- Trying to avoid any kind of reminder of the traumatic experience
- Being easily startled
- Memory or concentration problems
- Young children with PTSD may regress to a previous level of development and resume thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
- Teens may become disrespectful, destructive or disruptive
- Some people with PTSD use illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco or food as coping strategies, which can lead to a variety of other illnesses like heart disease, lung cancer, alcoholism or drug addiction.
Treatment for PTSD
PTSD actually causes changes in the normal chemistry of the brain, and some people cannot recover without medication to correct the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). However, even when medications are useful, it is also important for people with PTSD to engage in counselling in order address and face the underlying issues that caused their PTSD to come about in the first place.
Counselling sessions with clinical psychologists skilled in the area of PTSD can help to provide you with the all-important social support necessary for recovery. A trained counsellor can work with you to face and control your fear, to make sense of bad memories or to learn new strategies for dealing with symptoms. Counselling is particularly important when the PTSD is the result of an ongoing situation like domestic violence or when the traumatic events occurred repeatedly, as happens in childhood sexual abuse.
Visit the following pages for more information about more specific types of PTSD:
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