Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD

What is it?

The Australian Psychological Society note that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) involves three main groups of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma in the form of intrusive memories, nightmares or flashbacks
  • Avoidance of reminders and numbing of emotional responsiveness
  • Hyperarousal - feeling jumpy and on edge.

© Australian Psychological Society 2014

Whilst the APS notes the broad symptom groups, specifically PTSD is a neurological disruption which presents as an anxiety disorder where a person’s memory, both conscious and unconscious, invokes their sympathetic nervous system to believe they are under threat (whether they are or not). The biological result is an increase in heart rate, an increase in breathing rate, a redistribution of blood from the extremities (arms and legs) to the vital organs, an increase in adrenalin, a contraction of muscles, and a narrowing of the cognitive functions. The adrenalin influx is often felt as ’butterflies in the stomach’ for a six year old or as a massive ‘pain in the guts’ for the average adult. It is worth noting that often all of the symptoms occur by invoking unconscious memory and the person is often the last to know they are suffering from PTSD.

Who gets it?

One thing for sure is that PTSD is not caused by any aspect of a person’s personality or aptitude. Simply put, there is nothing you personally could have done to prevent this other than not experiencing the initial event which triggered the PTSD symptoms in the first place. Most instances of PTSD are triggered by experiencing or witnessing an event where it is believed that someone might die or in some cases, someone did die. Saying that someone has PTSD because they couldn’t handle a situation or because they are weak is like saying someone who had a stroke or an aneurism is weak and can’t handle normal blood flow, as this makes about as much sense on a neurological level.

What causes it?

The existence of PTSD symptoms is an indication of the brain’s failure to recover after an initial traumatic event. As in a lot of cases of people experiencing a traumatic event, the person will recover within 12 months of the event and whilst they may not forget the event, they are not likely to be adversely affected by it. In the case where some people have not yet recovered, they are the ones who are likely to develop symptoms of PTSD. PTSD is mostly caused by the person experiencing or witnessing a death or near death experience where they feared for their own life or the life of someone else. The initial memory of what happened (the facts) is not normally what affects people on a long term basis although this of course can be disturbing. It is the neurological changes to the person’s unconscious memory of how their body reacted and felt (the kinaesthetic and emotive memory) which results in the neurological threat effect. Say for example you had an awesome childhood and think fondly of your times with family and remember your time at your childhood home. It is usually only when you smell something, like popcorn for example, or hear something, like a top 10 song from the year you were 11, that your memory is triggered to actually remember details of those fun times. PTSD is like those childhood memories only they are not so fun, especially for Service Men and Women who might have disturbing memories of things they can never bring themselves to speak about and they can be triggered by something as innocuous as the sight of a corn cob or the smell of fuel. Everyday things which are often hard to avoid and even harder to explain to your mates, why you just hit the ground while in a grocery store, when someone in the isle next to you dropped a can of soup.

How do I know that I suffer from it?

Usually and very surprisingly for some people, you are the last to know you suffer from PTSD. It is only after becoming aware of your ongoing symptoms of distress and quite often it is family members and loved ones who will ‘motivate’ people to seek help for their symptoms. I say motivate when what we often see is a family member making an ultimatum that “if you don’t do something about this, I’m leaving you” that a person will seek assistance. Only then after careful consideration of all the information is it possible to diagnose and then treat PTSD. Sometimes the symptoms might be a person’s increase in alcohol consumption and aggressive or violent outbursts, for no apparent reason. Sometimes it is just the interruption to sleep such as nightmares and restlessness that a person’s partner might notice and discuss with them.

What happens once a diagnosis is made?

Treatment is always voluntary unless a person is at risk of harm to themselves of others. If you want treatment, you would ideally agree upon a treatment plan that suits you. Most people use a combination of medication and therapy (talking therapy) but this is really up to each person and is dependent on many factors. Just because your mate Kevin suffers PTSD and he takes Efexor, doesn’t mean this will be the right treatment option for you. Some people may prefer to take medication and never talk to anyone except their General Practitioner, whilst others are determined not to take medications and prefer to talk through their concerns and learn strategies to assist them.

Where to from here?

There are many services available to people suffering PTSD and the following links and fact Sheets are provided as a guide of where to start. However if you are concerned that you or someone else may be suffering from PTSD, you can call and make an appointment on 5432 4118 to complete an assessment.

 

Australian Psychological Society Fact Sheet

http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/trauma/

Australian Defence Force Fact Sheet

http://www.defence.gov.au/health/dmh/Fact%20Sheets/105087%20Post%20trauma.pdf

Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health, located through the University of Melbourne;

http://www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/

Child Trauma library resources

http://childtrauma.org/cta-library/

National Institute of Mental Health, USA

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-research-fact-sheet/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-research-fact-sheet.pdf

There are many Facebook support groups which can easily be located by searching for ‘PTSD’ and then selecting something of interest and relevance to you. For example;

https://www.facebook.com/veteransptsdproject

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-Diggers/127819490624464.

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