Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by extremely frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience. It is not usually related to upsetting experiences, such as divorce, job loss or failing an exam. The type of experience that can cause PTSD could be
- Serious road accidents
- Violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- Witnessing violent deaths
- Military combat
- Being held hostage
- Terrorist attacks
- Traumatic birth
- Natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
An individual can develop problems immediately after experiencing a disturbing event. It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event and in many people these will improve naturally. However for some their symptoms persist and interfere with their normal day-to-day life. For some the symptoms are severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact. Difficulties can develop weeks, months or sometimes years after the event itself.
Someone with PTSD will often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.
PTSD can be successfully treated, even when it develops many years after a traumatic event.
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and how soon they occur after the traumatic event. If your symptoms continue for more than four weeks or are particularly severe it may be a good idea to seek some help. Confronting your feelings and seeking help can help you to overcome your distressing symptoms. Any of the following treatment options may be suggested:
- Watchful waiting - waiting to see whether the symptoms improve without treatment - this would usually be done with your GP
- Psychological treatment - such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
- In some cases antidepressant medication combined with a psychological approach can be helpful (medication would be prescribed by your GP if required)