Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after a traumatic event that was life-threatening (to ourselves or others), frightening, and beyond our control. Most people will feel distressed after experiencing such an event, and may have difficulty moving past it. This can result in an Acute Stress Reaction, but this usually fades away over a few days or weeks. However, if this acute reaction doesn’t go away, people can develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Feelings of guilt, anger, fear, despair and/or grief
  • Flashbacks and/or nightmares – people will relive the event, over and over again
  • People will keep busy and avoid being reminded of the event, if possible
  • Feeling constantly alert to possible threats. This can then impact on your ability to relax and/or sleep
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, panic, gut problems, and aches and pains
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs (including painkillers)

Secondary trauma can be experienced by people who are supporting those who have been traumatised.  Whilst they have not been faced with a life-threatening situation themselves, having intimate knowledge of a traumatic event can sometimes result in them experiencing symptoms of PTSD.  Certain professions who work closely with victims of trauma may experience secondary trauma.  These professions include firefighters, social workers, barristers and solicitors, and nurses, for example.

Trauma-focused psychological therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) can be very helpful.  Antidepressant medication can also help, but appropriate psychological therapy should be offered in the first instance.



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