Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is an anxiety-based disorder triggered by a traumatic event witnessed or experienced by an individual.
Some sufferers have continuous negative thoughts about their involvement in the event. It is common for a person with PSTD to repeatedly agonise over questions; for example, why the event happened, why it happened to them, if there was anything they could have done to have changed it, and whether they deserved to be involved/witness such trauma. These sorts of questions may bring an individual unwarranted shame and guilt, and ultimately prevent them from coming to terms with their experience.
PSTD can cause a person to change due to their overwhelming feelings of negativity, and can be the cause of break-downs in relationships, friendships, marriage, family etc.
What causes PTSD?
In its nature, PTSD has no specific universal cause. However, the typical kind of events that may result in PTSD are:
- Military service (usually due to combat in a war zone)
- Serious road/aeroplane accidents
- Prolonged violence; neglect, sexual abuse, verbal or physical abuse.
- Sexual assault or rape
- Violent robbery or mugging
- Being held hostage
- Witnessing a violent death, assault or accident
- Unexpected death or severely injured close friend or family member
- Terrorist attacks
- Involve in a natural disaster; tsunami or earthquakes
PTSD manifests and develops in around 1 in 3 people who experience extreme cases of trauma. Medically it is not confirmed why some people develop it and some don’t, but the research surrounding why this is the case looks at the likelihood of an individual developing it based on certain factors. These could include a history of depression, anxiety or other mental health related disorders, or there may be a genetic influence. It is believed it is possible that having a parent who also suffered from PTSD or other mental health problems increases the chances of that individual developing PTSD after a trigger-event.
Symptoms of PTSD
Usually with PTSD, the symptoms develop within a month after said traumatic events(s) . In some cases, the symptoms do not begin to show until a number of months or years have past; this is known as ‘Delayed-onset PTSD’.
Although symptoms can heavily vary between sufferers, the symptoms listed below usually indicate PTSD.
Re-experiencing the event(s) in the form of:
- Vivid nightmares
- Visions of distressing images and sensations associated with an event.
- Physical pain, sickness, shaking/trembling and sweating.
Some sufferers complain that the symptoms related to re-experiencing are constant, whilst others say they come in waves.
- Serve anxiety
- Finding it hard to relax; aware of potential threats and easily alarmed.
- Trouble concentrating
- Anger-management problems; for example, outbursts.
Other mental health problems:
- Suicidal thoughts
Addiction or destructive behaviour:
- Alcohol misuse/addiction
- Drug misuse/addiction
What happens when you have PTSD?
Other than the symptoms and causes listed above, what’s going on in the brain when PTSD occurs?
It has been suggested that the symptoms of PTSD are a direct result of the bodies survival instinct, despite actually being extremely unhelping to ones recovery and daily life.
The re-experiencing of an event, for example in the form of a flashback, forces you to consider the event in detail, so that you can then be prepared, were it to happen again. In synergy with that, the hyperarousal asks as tool to react as quickly as possible, were it, or something similar, to reoccur.
‘Fight or Flight’
Studies on sufferers of PTSD have largely shown that they tend to have abnormally-high levels of stress hormones.
The bodies normal reaction to imminent danger is to produce hormones, such as adrenaline, which kick in a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This reaction aims to focus the brain on finding safety through the dulling of senses and pain. This is extremely normal when in danger.
However, people with PTSD are known to constantly be in this state of mind, even without any danger or threat.
Physical changes to the brain
Scans done on the brain of people who suffer with PTSD often show abnormalities in the hippocampus, responsible for emotional processing and memory. This part of the brain (hippocampus) appears smaller in people diagnosed with PTSD than those who are not. It is believed that the changes in the hippocampus may be a related to flashbacks and memory problems.
To find out what it is like to suffer from PTSD, watch this video by ‘Mind’ of sufferers discussing their thoughts, feeling, symptoms and coping mechanisms with each other.