Navigating PTSD: What You Need to Know

PTSD can be a devastating condition to live with. Learn more about what it is, who’s at risk of developing the condition and it’s diagnosis, and, treatments.

What is PTSD?

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops in some people after they experience or witness a traumatic, dangerous, or life-threatening event.

Is PTSD the same as stress?

No, they are not the same. Regular stress normally occurs due to everyday factors like work, family or social stresses. PTSD on the other hand develops following a traumatic situation.

What classifies as a traumatic situation?

Traumatic situations include events with serious injuries, physical damage or even death. Examples include the unexpected death of a friend or a family member, a car accident, sexual assault, robbery, and natural disasters.

Who can develop PTSD?

Anyone can develop this condition. It’s more likely to occur in people who have experienced abuse, sexual or physical assault, accidents, or any other traumatic incidents.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Everyone experiences PTSD differently, symptoms usually begin within a month after a traumatic event, although they can occur much later in other people. There are four categories of symptoms:
  • Re-experiencing symptoms: These include reliving the trauma, having flashbacks or nightmares, and feeling severe distress when you think of the traumatic episode
  • Avoidance symptoms: These cause problems in your daily activities. You may be emotionally distant or numb, and you should avoid certain places, things, or events that remind you of the incident
  • Arousal symptoms: These include feeling anxious, tense and irritated, getting easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, and experiencing sudden bursts of anger or aggression
  • Negative symptoms: You may feel negative about yourself and the world, feel guilt or shame after the event, not remember important facts about the event, and have difficulty taking part in events that you enjoyed before

Can PTSD also occur in children?

Yes, this condition can also occur in children, although the symptoms usually differ from those seen in adults. Some symptoms include:
  • Losing skills they have previously acquired, for example, wetting the bed despite knowing how to use the toilet or having trouble speaking
  • Having trouble going to sleep or experiencing nightmares
  • Being unusually clingy with parents
  • Complaining of aches and pains without any discoverable cause
  • Being irritable, angry, or aggressive
  • Developing new fears and anxieties
  • Recreating the traumatic event through stories, plays, or drawings

Why do only certain people develop PTSD?

Not everyone who undergoes a traumatic or life-threatening event develops PTSD. Factors that put you at a greater risk include:
  • An abusive or traumatic childhood
  • Repeated exposure to some kind of traumatic event
  • Little to no social support
  • A high-stress life
  • History of mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

When should I see a doctor?

If you are having difficulty with your daily activities and are experiencing scary thoughts or feelings after a traumatic event for more than a month, you should consult a doctor.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

A psychiatrist or psychologist can diagnose this condition if you have been experiencing the following symptoms for more than a month :
  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least two arousal symptoms
  • At least three avoidance symptoms
  • Symptoms that affect the daily routine

How is PTSD treated?

The mainstay of treatment is therapy and medications. Not everyone will benefit from the same type of treatment, and it can take some time to find the right treatment for you.

Psychotherapy: In psychotherapy, you will learn how to manage and cope with your emotions. It can be one-on-one or a group session. This can include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: (CBT) This focuses on recognising and changing your thoughts and feelings that are associated with the event
  •  Prolonged exposure therapy: In this, you are gradually exposed to the trauma in a safe environment. It encourages you to face your fear and learn how to cope
  • Group therapy: People who have had similar traumatic experiences come together to talk about their experience in a non-judgemental and safe space

Medications – Most often, your doctor will prescribe antidepressants to treat your symptoms

How long can PTSD last?

Each person reacts differently. However, those without treatment usually experience symptoms for a longer duration.

How can I cope with PTSD?

It’s important to realise that this is a treatable condition. Just like any other illness or disease, it’s advisable that you consult a doctor. You can also:
  • Vocalise your worries and concerns with your doctor, friends, and family members
  • Engage in regular physical activity and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga
  • Spend more time doing things that you like with people who love and support you
  • Take care of your diet, get sufficient rest, and avoid taking any kind of drugs or alcohol
  • Go easy on yourself, and do not expect any drastic changes or improvements

How can I help someone with PTSD?

In order to help someone else cope, you can:
  • Learn and understand more about the condition and how it can impact someone
  • Accompany them on their doctor visits and help them with their medication
  • Listen to their worries and concerns, and be supportive
  • Spend more time with them
  • Encourage them to take part in social events
Dr. Aditi

Dr. Aditi

An MBBS and a medical reviewer with a penchant for healthcare articles and blogs. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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