Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition where you have recurring distressing memories, flashbacks and other symptoms after suffering or witnessing a traumatic event. Treatment options include antidepressant medication and non-medicinal treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition which develops after you have been involved in, or witnessed, a serious trauma such as a life-threatening assault. During the trauma you feel intense fear, helplessness or horror. In some people PTSD develops soon after the trauma. However, in some cases the symptoms first develop several months, or even years, after the trauma.
Who gets post-traumatic stress disorder?
The strict definition of PTSD is that the trauma you had or witnessed must be severe; for example: a severe accident, rape, a life-threatening assault, torture, seeing someone killed, etc. However, symptoms similar to PTSD develop in some people after less severe traumatic events. It is estimated that up to 3 in a 100 people may develop PTSD at some stage in life. One large survey of the general population in England found that 3 in 100 adults screened positive for PTSD. It is much more common in certain groups of people. For example, some studies have found that PTSD develops in about:
- 1 in 5 firefighters.
- 1 in 3 teenage survivors of car crashes.
- 1 in 2 female rape victims.
- 2 in 3 prisoners of war.
Some people have risk factors which make them more prone to develop PTSD when they are exposed to a traumatic event. These include:
- Previous mental health problems.
- Being female.
- Coming from a poor background.
- Lack of education.
- Coming from an ethnic minority.
- Being exposed to trauma in the past.
- A family history of mental illness.
What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder?
- Recurring thoughts, memories, images, dreams, or flashbacks of the trauma which are distressing.
- You try to avoid thoughts, conversations, places, people, activities or anything which may trigger memories of the trauma, as these make you distressed or anxious.
- Feeling emotionally numb and feeling detached from others. You may find it difficult to have loving feelings.
- Your outlook for the future is often pessimistic. You may lose interest in activities which you used to enjoy and find it difficult to plan for the future.
- Increased arousal which you did not have before the trauma. This may include:
- Difficulty in getting off to sleep or staying asleep.
- Being irritable which may include outbursts of anger.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Increased vigilance.
- Being more easily startled than you were before.