Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the collective name for a group of symptoms that can occur after experiencing a shocking, traumatic event. Traumatic means that a person has been injured. In case of PTSD, this is a mental injury that doesn’t heal properly. The patient is not able to process the trauma.
The causes can be very different. They are generally shocking events that underlie PTSD. Central to this condition is that a person feels powerless and helpless. All sense of safety and security seems to have been removed. Some possible causes are:
- Incest experiences.
- Being a victim of rape.
- Experiencing a plane crash.
- Ending up in war situations as a soldier or civilian.
- Concentration camp experiences.
- Experiencing a natural disaster.
- Being involved in an accident.
- Being the victim of violence or threats.
PTSD can occur immediately after a shocking event, but this doesn’t always have to be. Sometimes, it can take years before a person experiences PTSD.
The most common signs and symptoms of PTSD are:
- Concentration and memory problems.
- More irritable and unreasonable anger outbursts.
- Having no interest in the environment.
- Gloomy, depressed mood.
- Poor sleep.
- Memories and images of the event can pop up unexpectedly.
- Nightmares. These nightmares are often a reliving of the traumatic experience.
- Suffering from guilt or shame.
- Being intensely and severely frightened.
- Using a lot of alcohol, medicines or drugs.
There is no simple test to make a diagnosis of PTSD. Yet there is a questionnaire that can be used to examine whether there may be PTSD. A psychologist can determine a possible diagnosis by means of a structured interview and a number of measuring instruments.
There are various treatments for PTSD:
- Psychotherapy. This helps well with PTSD and reduces the symptoms in many people. In a safe environment, a person relives the shocking event. By talking a lot, the associated emotions wear. This way, the experiences get a regular place in life. The patient can have individual or group psychotherapy. The partner may also be involved in the treatment.
- Hypnosis and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Under hypnosis, a person is less aware of what he or she says. This makes it less painful for the patient to tell his or her story. In EMDR, the patient can imagine the event again. At the same time, the patient is distracted by external stimuli, such as taps via headphones. One hears them alternately in the left and right ear. Being diverted during memory, makes one able to handle it better.
- Medicines. Apart from therapy, the general practitioner sometimes prescribes medicines, usually antidepressants. These drugs help reduce feelings of despair and gloom. It takes a while before they have the desired effect. The prescribed medications are intended to help the patient through a difficult period in his or her life. They cannot replace therapy.
The prognosis varies. Healing is dependent upon the speed at which the symptoms occur, the diagnosis is made and treatment is started. The prognosis is usually good, provided that the person gets the chance to talk and express emotions about the traumatic event. If the disorder remains untreated, it can exist for a long time, but then decreases in seriousness.
- Take lots of time and rest.
- Talk to trusted people about the event. There’s no problem to start talking yourself. Friends and family often don’t dare, out of fear for what they unlock in the person concerned. But they do want to hear the story.
- Seek support from fellow-sufferers. People who have more or less experienced the same, often understand each other with a half word.
- Try to talk to others about their lives. That way, one is going to enjoy normal life again.
- Provide structure in the days. Keep a fixed daily schedule, even in case of poor sleep.
- Eat healthy.
- Find distraction and do fun things. For example, go to the movies or go cycling or walking.
- The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder is about 2%.