We often associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with the experience of servicemen returning from time spent in combat. But the truth is that this type of anxiety disorder is experienced by around 1 million Australians every year.
When it comes to mental health in Australia, there are still big gaps in our collective knowledge that results in vulnerable people slipping through the cracks. In the case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a lack of understanding about the condition, who can experience it, and how it can be treated, means people often feel alone and misunderstood.
The best way to combat this state of affairs is to make information about PTSD more readily available, and have people educated on it so they can see when those around them, or when they themselves, might need a helping hand.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is essentially a type of anxiety in the same thread as panic disorders and even OCD. When someone is suffering from PTSD they have a particular set of reactions that develop after they’ve been through a traumatic event. This could be something they’ve witnessed, or something they’ve experienced, in which they felt that their safety and that of those around them was threatened. So it might be an accident, someone’s death, physical or sexual assault, war and torture, and even disasters such as flooding or bushfires.
Is It Common?
Most people are surprised just how common PTSD is in the wider community. In fact 12% of all Australians will experience PTSD in one year. I had my own run in with this disorder last year after I broke my elbow falling off a set of rollerblades. It might not seem like much, but afterwards I felt like every time I went to sleep I was reliving the moment that I fell. Over and over again, with the feeling of falling more real than ever before. Sleep became impossible, and I avoided even closing my eyes. I was lucky. Within 10 days I had managed to remove myself from the cycle with the help of my family and friends, and by focusing on things I enjoyed and my own recovery.
The truth is that anybody can develop PTSD after a traumatic event. Mental health professionals agree that people are at greater risk if the event involved someone deliberately harming them, as in the case of physical or sexual abuse, or if the trauma is repeated, such as child sexual abuse or living in a war zone. There are also some risk factors that sit separately from a single traumatic event, such as a history of trauma, previous mental health problems, and a high level of stress in life. Above all things, a lack of social supports can really cement somebody into a damaging PTSD cycle.
Signs & Symptoms
People who have PTSD often find themselves experiencing feelings of fear and panic that often mimic those that they felt in the middle of the traumatic event. In general, although everyone is different, there are four main signs that a person might have PTSD.
- They’re reliving the event: Constant unwanted and recurring memories, images and nightmares are the main sign a person is suffering from PTSD. These are often accompanied by intense emotional or physical reactions reminicent of the event, including sweating and panic.
- They’re wound up: A constant alertness in people with PTSD can lead to sleep difficulty, lack of concentration for other tasks, irritability and more. The person can be easily startled, or feel like they must constantly look for signs of danger.
- They avoid reminders: Trauma is a part of the human experience, and avoiding memories of the trauma is not a healthy coping process. However, when a person has PTSD they often avoid activities, places, people, thoughts and feelings associated their their own trauma, to avoid the memories.
- They feel numb: A loss of interest in day-to-day life similar to depression is another sign that someone might have PTSD. Sufferers often describe themselves feeling cut off or detached from friends and family, and generally feeling numb.
What Treatments Are There?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is so common in the first few weeks after a traumatic event that most people are able to recover on their own. By relying on their own networks, and focusing on their own recovery, many people can move past the trauma. For that reason, formal treatment does not usually start until two weeks after the event, when the person knows that they are having problems. Despite this, talking to someone soon after the trauma can really make a difference later on in the treatment process.
The good news is that PTSD is effectively treated every single day in Australia using psychological treatment, talking through the trauma, medication or a combination of the two. The mental health professional in charge of your case will help you to confront the traumatic memory and work through it. By deconstructing the thoughts, beliefs and feelings associated with the event, people can reduce the feelings of anxiety that accompany it.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be a complicated disorder, but it is not an impossible one to move on from.
If you, or someone around you, might be suffering from PTSD take a moment to read this great fact sheet from Beyond Blue and learn even more about PTSD and how you can help.