When someone experiences a traumatic event they can sometimes suffer psychological stress related to the incident. If the symptoms of this stress last longer than a month then it’s usually classed as PTSD.
Left untreated the symptoms of PTSD can last a life time and have devastating effects on a person's personal and professional life which can then spill over into a wider social context. So, it's important that counsellors, social workers, caring professionals and personnel in jobs which are at a high risk of developing the disorder are able to recognise the symptoms of PTSD when dealing with clients, service users and colleagues.
As you might expect, high-risk groups include: the emergency services, the armed forces and anyone who may come into regular contact with trauma as part of their job. But it’s also important to remember that more everyday events – including accidents, sexual abuse, miscarriage, physical attacks, bullying, crime and so on – can trigger this reaction too. After all, it’s estimated that around 1% (approx. 600,000 people) of the British population is suffering from PTSD at any given time.
One way of thinking about PTSD is that it’s ‘a normal emotional reaction to an abnormal, and potentially life-threatening, event’. But, just because someone has experienced a traumatic situation doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop PTSD. So, identifying suffers isn’t straightforward.
There are many symptoms of PTSD and not all are experienced by every sufferer, but if you are aware of them you’ll be in a better position to recognise the onset of PTSD and provide the necessary help and referral for professional advice.
- Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event.
- Flashbacks – feeling like the trauma is happening now.
- Having trouble sleeping or changes in appetite.
- Experiencing anxiety and fear, especially when exposed to events or situations reminiscent of the trauma. There might also be the desire to avoid activities, places, or even people, associated with it.
- Emotional swings – e.g. crying and then laughing.
- Being on edge, easily startled or becoming overly alert.
- Being depressed, or feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness about the future.
- Experiencing memory problems and being unable to focus on work or daily activities. Decision making can become very difficult.
- Feeling irritable, easily agitated, or angry and resentful.
- Having difficulty in trusting anyone and/or feelings of betrayal.
- Experiencing feelings of shame, self-blame and/or survivor guilt.
- Feeling extremely protective of, or fearful for, the safety of loved ones.
- Concern over burdening others with their problems.
These are the emotional symptoms, but there are physical symptoms as well. These are:
- Low energy levels.
- Aches and pains e.g. headaches, backaches, stomach cramps.
- Sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations.
- Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex.
- Easily startled by noises or unexpected touch.
- More susceptible to colds and illnesses.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating.
If you suspect someone might be suffering from PTSD encourage them to consider the following coping strategies:
- Mobilising a support system to reach out and connect with others, especially those who may have shared the stressful event.
- Talking about the traumatic experience with empathetic listeners – or seeking counselling.
- Not feeling embarrassed to cry.
- Taking up a sport or hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, bicycling, walking etc.
- Relaxing with yoga, stretching exercises or massage.
- Listening to relaxing guided imagery; progressive deep muscle relaxation or prayer/meditation.
- Maintaining a balanced diet and regular sleep cycle as much as possible.
- Considering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) – both methods accepted by NICE.
- Writing about their experience in detail – just for themselves, or to share with others.
It must be stressed, however, that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily help another, so it is a case of trial and error.
People are usually surprised – and depressed – when reactions to trauma last longer than they expect. It may take weeks, months, and in some cases, many years to fully regain equilibrium. But most people will get through this period with the help and support of family, friends and caring professionals.
If you’d like to know more about recognising PTSD in others and helping them find the kind of support they need to put them back on the road to recovery then take a look at the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder course offered by STT. It is written and tutored by one of the UK’s leading authorities on the subject and will give you a deep understanding of the disorder.
Click here for more details.