What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Once referred to as ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat fatigue’, PTSD became recognised internationally after World War 1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. It is a serious condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to function in their daily life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event that was life-threatening, caused serious injury or was catastrophic. PTSD is a serious condition that can profoundly impact a person’s life, making it difficult to work, maintain relationships, and even perform daily tasks. Around 12% of Australians will have PTSD at some point in their life.[1]

 

Who can experience PTSD?

Once referred to as ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat fatigue’, PTSD became recognised internationally after the First World War and became an official diagnosis in 1980. Although it is most commonly associated with war veterans, anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event can develop PTSD.

Types of traumatic events include natural disasters, serious accidents, experiencing or witnessing violence or abuse, sudden loss of a loved one, terrorism, and war.

PTSD can develop after a single traumatic event or after prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma, such as military combat, first responders to emergencies, childhood abuse or neglect, and domestic violence.

 

Six common PTSD symptoms

Everyone experiences trauma differently. Most people who experience traumatic events may initially struggle, but typically, through time and self-care, they tend to recover. Other people may not recognise the traumatic event as an issue but start to notice that they have relationship problems, negative thoughts, poor sleep, or physical health complaints such as headaches.

If you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event, here are some common PTSD symptoms to look out for:

  1. Repeatedly re-living the event, including the accompanying physical or mental distress, through memories, flashbacks or dreams
  2. Hyperarousal or hypervigilance – being overly alert, feeling ‘on edge’ or wound up
  3. Feeling angry or irritable
  4. Avoiding people, places or anything that may remind them of the trauma
  5. Feeling emotionally numb or uninterested
  6. Having persistent negative thoughts.

Sometimes people living with PTSD also experience other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

If the person’s daily life is impacted and the symptoms worsen, they may have PTSD and should seek help.

 

How can family and friends help someone with PTSD?

Support networks can play a vital role. It can be helpful to read up about common responses to trauma, so you know what to expect. Still, the simple act of providing emotional and practical support helps enormously. Working to remove other potential stressors in the person’s life is one of the most supportive things you can do because it allows the person to focus more on their recovery.

It’s also helpful to allow for and encourage the person to continue with a predictable routine, ensuring they get up each day, do something they enjoy and look after their physical health.

If the person is ready to talk, take the time to listen without judgment and avoid trying to second guess their feelings.

You should encourage the person to seek professional help by talking to their GP or mental health professional, as this will help with recovery.

 

PTSD treatment

Many people have symptoms of PTSD in the first few weeks after the event but can recover on their own or with the help of their support networks. For this reason, professional PTSD treatment does not usually start until about two to four weeks after the experience. Still, you should seek help whenever it’s needed, even if it is soon after the event.

Most PTSD treatments involve psychological therapies, but medication can also help in some cases. In addition, exercise, mindfulness and self-help strategies have also been shown to be of benefit, both for the symptoms of PTSD and also for associated conditions like depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

The very nature of PTSD symptoms means that they can be re-triggered by particular places, people or other reminders, so it’s helpful to make a recovery plan with a health professional.

 

When should you seek help for PTSD?

You should seek help if you have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event and:

  • Don’t feel any better two to four weeks after the trauma
  • Keep thinking about the trauma
  • Feel highly anxious or distressed
  • Have reactions that are interfering with daily life
  • Have relationships that are suffering
  • Have ongoing negative thoughts.

Most of us will feel symptoms of trauma in the days and weeks immediately after a traumatic event, but if things are not getting better over time, you should reach out. You can speak to your GP, who may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

For more information on PTSD, visit Phoenix Australia, which has a range of trauma-related mental health resources.

If you need to talk, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78. Our counselling service is free.

 

If you need to talk, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or or access free video and online counselling.

 

Reference

[1] 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing

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