What is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Trauma is an event that has happened to you that negatively impacts on your sense of security and confidence to cope, and can leave you feeling that the world or parts of it are dangerous and that you are vulnerable to being hurt again. PTSD is a diagnosis that is given to people who have suffered a trauma, e.g. a car accident, being attacked, breakup of a relationship, being abused, war related or terrorist related events etc., and find it difficult to return to their previous sense of well-being.

However, sometimes people develop PTSD even if the trauma ‘seems’ small (e.g. witnessing a car accident) – basically trauma is any kind of event that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. Sometimes people can cope with really stressful events and be fine but then a more minor stressor might affect them badly. Thus the magnitude of the trauma does not necessarily predict the magnitude of a persons’ reaction, what is more important is to recognise that you may feel overwhelmed and traumatised by something and this is the first step in finding a way to help yourself feel better.

Symptoms of PTSD

It is important to remember that these symptoms are a way of trying to cope with what feels to be an unmanageable situation and in many ways are normal reactions to abnormal events or situations.

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Sense of needing to be ‘on guard’ most of the time
  • Flashbacks
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling unhappy, guilty, shameful
  • Withdrawal from people and activities that you used to enjoy
  • Feeling numb or disconnected
  • Difficulties in concentration

If you have some of these symptoms, then it is best to go to your GP or a qualified mental health professional who can discuss this with you and decide if you are suffering from PTSD.

Treatment of PTSD

There are different ways of treating trauma. The first most important step is finding a therapist experienced in treating trauma and feeling comfortable with them. The different treatment options may include a providing a supportive space to be able to work through issues relating to the trauma, using a Cognitive Behavioural Approach, Compassion Focussed Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy or a more integrative model. Again, what is most important is to talk to the therapist and to decide together what approach suits you the best.