What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
As many as 3 million Australians will be affected by PTSD at some point but the causes and symptoms are different between individuals. PTSD is characterised by fears and anxieties about a traumatic event that keeps resurfacing. It is caused by being a part of or witnessing a trauma. The kinds of traumas that may cause PTSD symptoms include
- Living in a war zone
- A sexual trauma
- A physical assault or violation
- Experiencing natural disasters
What Are The PTSD Symptoms?
PTSD symptoms can occur straight after the event, or they can resurface months or years after the traumatic event has taken place. Some symptoms include
- Flashbacks or memories of the traumatic event that interfere with day to day activities
- Reliving the traumatic experience
- Disturbing thoughts that may be triggered by sensorial experiences like taste, smell, words, an environment or touch
- Sleep disturbances and nightmares.
Some people may exhibit avoidant behaviour as a protective mechanism, as a result of their traumatic experience. Examples of such behaviours as symptomatic of PTSD are
- Changing your routine to avoid memory triggers
- Feelings of numbness
- Avoiding talking about the trauma
- Avoiding places, people or events in order to avoid triggering post-traumatic stress disorder memories
Other people may exhibit hyper-arousal and alertness. Some of these symptoms include
- Constantly checking the environment for danger
- Being jumpy or easily scared
- Aggressive or irritable behaviour
- Problems with sleep or concentration
Some patients are emotionally disturbed as a result of a traumatic experience and may exhibit
- An intense feeling of guilt, worry or anxiety
- Forgotten memories about the event
- An overall feeling of dread or hopelessness about the future
- Loss of enjoyment in activities you previously enjoyed
- Emotional detachment
Children and teenagers who have experienced traumas may also
- Start bedwetting
- Show neediness or clinginess to caregivers
- Enact the traumatic event
- Have extreme temper tantrums
- Be vengeful
- Be destructive or violent
- Engage in riskier behaviour
How To Help Someone With PTSD?
The best way how to help someone with PTSD is to provide emotional support and assist them with seeking professional treatment. Understanding their behaviour in a non-judgemental way is very important. A person with PTSD may lash out, be difficult to live with or difficult to communicate with, and understanding this can make a difference to the level of support you can provide.
Remember though, that as a supportive person, your role is not to solve the issues but rather stand by the person so they can get professional treatment. Some ideas of how you can support a friend or family member through this include
- Taking over household chores
- Listen without feeling the need to give advice
- Try not to take it personally
- Try to understand and help the person manage their triggers
Remember to manage your own stress. You can only help someone else when you feel in control. You also can’t allow the other person’s trauma to infiltrate and affect your life, so you need to be able to draw healthy boundaries.
While it’s important that you listen, you also should not put the other person under pressure to talk or disclose too much about the trauma. Conversations should be voluntary and the other person should lead them, deciding what he or she would like to discuss.
Treatment for PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is usually not diagnosed until at least six months after the incident. Your general practitioner will do a medical history and physical examination to rule out any other concerns. Questions will be asked about the PTSD symptoms and depending on no the case, may be referred to a psychologist.
Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy are usually the first lines of treatment for patients wanting to cope better with PTSD symptoms. Sometimes medication may be recommended in conjunction with cognitive-behavioural therapy.
It’s important to note that treatment is likely to take a few months to benefit the person struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. During that time they still need a strong support base to help them through. It may not be possible to notice marked changes in behaviour for the first few weeks or months. What is important is that you continue to provide non-judgemental support, listen and help practically where you can during this transitional period.
Treatment may not go in a straight line. There will be ups and downs, and plenty of mixed feelings, so expect this. Above all, try to stay positive, even if you might not always feel it. Remember that tough times pass and tough people can make it through anything.
For help with how to help someone with PTSD, please seek professional support. We would love to assist you. Please call us for an appointment: (02) 9884 9300.