What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex psychological disorder that is suffered by people who have been involved in or witnessed extremely frightening, stressful or traumatic events. PTSD can affect anyone of any age although, for unknown reasons, men are more likely to suffer from the disorder than women.
The majority of people who experience traumatic events might suffer from some difficulty coping with the after effects, but this is usually temporary and, in these cases, time can be a healer. However, if the symptoms continue for longer than a month, PTSD is likely to be diagnosed. Around one in three traumatised people develop PTSD and there is no clear evidence as to why some do and some don't suffer from the condition.
The History of PTSD
The anxiety disorder now known as PTSD was first recognised during the First World War at which time it was known as shell shock, war neurosis or combat stress. However, it wasn't until much later that there was any real understanding of the condition.
Men were returning from battle, confused, not knowing where they were, and with symptoms of blindness, deafness, paralysis or the inability to speak, although they had no physical injuries. They would have nightmares and flashbacks of the horrors they had witnessed in the trenches.
The complete lack of knowledge and awareness of the causes led to many soldiers being shot for desertion or locked away in mental institutions. There were more than 80,000 reported cases of shell shock but there is no estimate of how many men suffering the condition went without being diagnosed. At that time there was very much a pull yourself together attitude.
Great strides were made in treating the condition after World War One, but it wasn't until 1980 that PTSD was officially deemed to be a mental health disorder. Now there are a range of treatments depending on the individual and the manifestation of the symptoms.
PTSD is commonly associated with military personnel suffering from combat stress, but any traumatic event can trigger the condition.
Personal attacks such as robbery, mugging or sexual assault; witnessing or being involved in a severe road accident, particularly one involving fatalities; natural disasters such as an earthquake, tsunami, avalanche or flood; the sudden death of a close friend or member of the family; being diagnosed with a long-term or life-threatening illness; getting caught up in a terrorist attack or being held hostage can all lead to PTSD.
A related condition known as Complex PTSD affects people, particularly children, who have suffered from prolonged and repeated violence, abuse or neglect. In these cases, the victims might not develop PTSD symptoms until many years after the events, although they are no less severe.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms can begin immediately after the event or not until much later when they may be triggered by another event. In the immediate aftermath it is initially hard to distinguish from those who are suffering from the expected reaction to the trauma they have experienced. It is when the symptoms persist beyond the first month or two that it is likely to be the more serious psychological condition.
The symptoms vary from person to person. Some may have severe and constant symptoms while others might experience prolonged intervals of hardly any noticeable symptoms, followed by spells when they are much worse.
The symptoms of PTSD can generally fall into the four types below, but victims can suffer from any combination these and to lesser or greater extents.
Memories and re-experience
The sufferer can experience unbidden recurring memories of the event, nightmares and flashbacks which are like reliving the trauma all over again. These can cause extreme distress, physical pain, nausea and hot or cold sweats.
They can feel shame or guilt for what happened to them and repeatedly ask themselves why they were not able to prevent it. These negative feelings can contribute to preventing themselves from accepting the event and moving on.
Avoidance and emotional detachment
Avoiding any reminders of the event is another common symptom. Keeping away from people or places which bring back memories of the trauma. People who have been in a serious car accident, for example, might not drive, or even travel in a car, or go near the scene of the accident. They will avoid discussing their experience with anybody.
They may try to numb their feelings by becoming emotionally detached. The person can stop taking part in activities that they previously enjoyed which can lead to them withdrawing into themselves and becoming isolated.
Some PTSD sufferers, particularly those who are victims of a personal assault, can have the constant feeling of being on the edge, or hyperarousal. They might be easily frightened or startled and constantly on guard for threats. This can lead to problems with sleeping, being irritable with those around them and having outbursts of anger. Concentrating on any activity can be difficult for them.
Changes in emotional and physical behaviour
People suffering from PTSD can undergo changes in personality, experiencing anxiety and depression or developing phobias. They may develop destructive or self-harming behaviour such as drinking too much, drug abuse driving too fast or risk taking. Often, they can find it difficult to maintain close relationships and become detached from friends and family.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a month you could be suffering from PTSD and you should consult your GP. Your doctor will carry out an assessment and, depending on your personal circumstances, may prescribe medication or refer you to a mental health specialist. A combination of medication and therapy might be applicable for severe cases of PTSD.
In cases where PTSD is the result of the actions of another party, such as in a non-fault road accident, you might be eligible to claim compensation for your distress and suffering. Consult an expert in the field of PTSD claims or visit accidentclaims.co.uk where there is lots of advice on how to proceed with your claim and help get your life back on track.