Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] is a complex mental health condition triggered by a shocking, dangerous or terrifying event – either having directly experienced it, or having been witness to it.
Experiencing fear is a natural response during and after a traumatic event designed to ultimately protect us from harm in dangerous situations, often requiring split second life and death decisions.
Nearly everyone will experience some form of reaction to trauma. For most people these reactions will be temporary and recovery from the effects of trauma is a natural process that can be resolved with a little help and self-care fairly quickly.
For some people, the initial reactions to a traumatic event will persist with symptoms that may get worse and interfere with day-to-day functioning. These people may have PTSD.
It is important to note that although PTSD is a fairly common condition, we need to also understand that is is a complex condition which requires precise diagnosis if proper treatmentis to be adopted. It is a sad reality that many cases of PTSD are misdiagnosed and poorly treated, sometimes resulting in devastating consequences for sufferers.
There are many avenues of accessing help, and when provided by suitably trained professionals, there is great success in treating this disorder.
Too often however, people allow the symptoms to get worse before they seek help because of a perception of stigma associated with seeking help for a mental illness. PTSD is a complex disorder which often gets misdiagnosed because of the complexity of presenting conditions.
Medibrain is a Centre of Excellence for the treatment of PTSD.
What are the PTSD risk factors ?
Anyone can develop PTSD in response to a traumatic event, which can include events such as war, disaster, physical violence, sexual abuse and accidents (any event in which a person was in danger or feared for their safety). War veterans, for example, have a much higher incidence of PTSD because of their higher exposure to traumatic events when deployed to war zones.
Trauma is not limited to experiencing personal danger and in some cases can also be the result of witnessing traumatic events or from personal loss.
Other factors that have been found to influence the likelihood of developing PTSD as previous loss and danger, childhood experiences, and a genetic predisposition to susceptibility for developing PTSD.
Historically females have generally shown to be more likely to develop PTSD than men, but this may now be changing because of increased awareness of PTSD in general and a concerted effort to remove the stigma associated with seek help for mental illness.
Is PTSD increasing in prevalence ?
PTSD as an identified mental illness has increased in the last decade and there are 3 major reasons for this.
One of the major drivers of the incidence of PTSD as a mental illness amongst the general population is increased exposure to traumatic events. Increased incidence (and reporting) of violent crime, sexual abuse, road accidents and terror related activities all lead to increased exposure to trauma events. Military in particular have experienced greatly increased exposure to trauma but the same can be said of our other emergency services.
Another is the increased awareness of PTSD and its symptoms. In the past the stigma associated to mental illness has meant many people with PTSD in the past suffered in silence and their illness remained undiagnosed. As their inability to cope started showing up in other symptoms including violence, substance abuse, self harm, anxiety and depression the underlying PTSD sometimes remained undiagnosed for many years,
Finally a reclassification of PTSD within the diagnostic standards used by the medical community to identify and classify mental illness means a we now have a better ability to diagnose PTSD more precisely. This increased precision in classification will naturally affect PTSD statistics.
Figures vary between sources but generally between 3%-5% of Australians are suffering from PTSD at any time, and between 7%-12% with suffer from PTSD during their lifetime. Incidence with military and emergency response staff are much higher because they are more at risk with a higher risk exposure to trauma events.
5%, or even 3%, is not an insignificant number of people and the severity of PTSD symptoms will vary individually. It is not uncommon for PTSD to present with a number of other contributing mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and the likelihood of this increases with time.
What symptoms to look for ?
Generally people who are exposed to a trauma will experience reactions and changes in their life immediately following the traumatic event and in most cases these responses will resolve themselves quickly.
Not everybody will develop on going (chronic) PTSD or short term (acute) PTSD.
PTSD symptoms usually begin early (within 3 months of the trauma) but sometimes it can be years afterwards.
It is important to seek medical advice whenever the symptoms below are present so that your treating doctor is aware of the onset and severity of the symptoms and make appropriate recommendations to help relieve the condition.
Each person will experience symptoms, emotional and physical reactions differently however the symptoms to look out for can be separated into 4 main categories.
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event.
These are called intrusive memories and include such things as flashbacks [reliving the trauma as if it was happening again], dreams/nightmares about the trauma, emotional distress [severe reactions to things that remind of the trauma].
This can also include physical reactions such as a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating and nausea.
2. Avoidance of remembering the trauma.
It is natural not to want to be reminded of the harrowing experience. These symptoms are about trying to purposefully avoid anything that will remind the person of the trauma.
This can include avoiding to think about the event; not wanting to talk about the trauma; avoiding places, people and activities that will trigger memories; and anything that evokes the same emotions that are associated with the trauma.
3. Feeling negative and emotionally numb.
PTSD sufferers can experience a general feeling of emptiness, alienation and detachment from family and friends; negative thoughts about self and surroundings (guilt, blame, hopelessness); and a lack of interest in the things that were once enjoyed.
It can also include difficulty experiencing happiness and positive emotions, and a shut down of memory, exhibiting a difficulty to recall important aspects of the trauma.
4. Being overly alert and reactive.
Hyper vigilance; a persistent sense of impending danger; and being overly cautious are common symptoms of PTSD, as are being easily startled; and a tendency for over reacting or exhibiting angry out-bursts.
Irritability, aggressive behaviour, trouble concentrating, disrupted sleep patterns and overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame are also common.
What to do if you think you may have PTSD ?
If you think you may be suffering from PTSD, or that someone you care about may be suffering from PTSD, please get in touch with our clinic immediately.
Simply give us a call on 9504 8400 or make an enquiry on our contact form and someone will call you to discuss your concerns.
If you are an active defense member, returned service-person or come from one of our emergency front-line services, you should note that the Melbourne Medibrain Centre has specific expertise in the treatment of PTSD resulting from trauma emanating from exposure to front-line field operations.Treating military & emergency services PTSD requires a particular appreciation and understanding of field conditions and human sensitivity to prolonged exposure in extreme conditions if the best possible treatment plan is to be implemented for our patients.Our PTSD First Aid Program provides for an initial detailed and precise diagnosis and coordination of a personalised recovery plan that is based on specific expertise and experience in treating PTSD for military and emergency service personnel.