Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD has been described for centuries and it was called “shell shock” during World War I. It may occur when one experiences traumatic life events such as road traffic accidents, burns, physical or sexual violence or unexpected loss of loved ones. Less frequently, it can also occur to eyewitnesses of such incidents.
Although no longer in danger, PTSD patients experience high levels of anxiety and fear, hypervigilence, intrusive re-experiencing of the event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares and unwanted memories, and engage in avoidance behaviours – painstakingly going out of their way to avoid reminders of the traumatic event.
- Female gender
- Financial difficulties
- Anxious personality
- Experiencing consequences from the trauma such as chronic pain, loss of ability to work and disfigurement
- Pre-existing psychiatric conditions
- Acute Stress Disorder – symptoms last for less than one month
- PTSD – symptoms persist beyond one month
SYMPTOMSAfter witnessing or personally experiencing trauma, PTSD sufferers re-live the experience through nightmares and flashbacks. Strong emotions are automatically triggered when they come across reminders like people, places and objects related to the incident. Sometimes, newspaper articles or television programs can trigger these memories and emotions. They avoid going to the place where the trauma took place. When these memories surface, they have intense negative emotions such as sadness, fear, guilt or shame. Young children with PTSD may become extremely clingy, cry more frequently, wet their bed or develop mutism.
- People with PTSD can benefit from participating in support groups such as a burns victims support group or a family violence victim support group. Having loved ones for support is important because it provides a safe space to share the experience without fear of judgement.
- Getting help from a psychiatrist can speed up recovery from PTSD. On top of the psychological support, antidepressant medications can reduce anxiety, improve mood and reduce the intrusive memories related to PTSD.
- The psychiatrist will also use psychological therapy approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to promote more helpful ways of thinking to manage negative emotions and painful memories. Eye-Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy uses guided eye movements to process the traumatic memories.