This disorder was actually first recognized as far back as World War 1 where soldiers were seen to be suffering anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares which lasted weeks, months and even years after the experience of combat. Back then this condition was labelled shell shock.
Post traumatic-stress disorder can present itself in anyone who has suffered severe trauma. This trauma can be anything that produces intense fear or terror which could include assaults, rape, violent crimes against yourself or close family members and would include natural disasters such as earthquakes, severe flooding, plane crashes etc. The symptoms appear to be more severe and last longer if the trauma is personal as in the case of rape or other violent crimes.
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Common symptoms are:
- Flashbacks – these feel so intense you feel you are reliving the trauma
- Nightmares – very common in post-traumatic stress disorder
- Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Persistent anxiety
- Inability to sleep well – constantly waking up during the night
- Irritability – including outbursts of anger
- Feeling detached or estranged from others including family members
- Constant distressing thoughts of the traumatic event
- Avoiding activities which could possibly end in the traumatic event happening again
To be medically diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder the symptoms must have been present for at least a month and be causing you extreme distress whilst interfering with everyday life to a large degree. Sufferers of this disorder tend to have symptoms of depression as well as chronic anxiety symptoms. If other people died as a result of the trauma then guilt is also a major
symptom with the sufferer maybe having feelings of blame or responsibility for the event or simply feeling guilty that they have survived.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age, in children the trauma will sometimes be re-enacted in their play or in upsetting dreams. In total this disorder is thought to affect around four percent of the population with a rise in the number of sufferers during wartime.
Treatment methods include:
- Relaxation therapy – deep breathing and other relaxation methods
- Exposure therapy – exposure to the situation will help you to realize it is no longer dangerous
- Cognitive therapy – fearful thoughts are replaced with more realistic thinking
- Support groups – helps the sufferer realize they are not alone
- Medication – Here the most popular drugs being SSRI’s, sometimes combined with a short term use of tranquilizers
If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder then contact your family doctor who can get you started with treatment and/or if necessary refer you to a specialist in this disorder. Help is available – please ask for it.