In this blog post, we explain how post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms develop and provide information about the range of PTSD treatments.
Fear and the activation of our fight/flight system is a completely normal response in a situation that threatens our life, our safety; or that of someone else. Sometimes, people who experience such traumatic events can go on to develop a range of really distressing changes to their thinking, feelings and behaviours as their brain and body try to process the traumatic experiences endured. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. A traumatic event not only refers to being in a situation where someone’s life was threatened, or someone was injured or killed, but also includes someone who witnessed a trauma or learnt of a trauma experienced by a relative or close friend. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event goes on to develop PTSD. People with pre-existing mental health challenges are more likely to develop PTSD. PTSD is a term we use to describe a pattern of experiences following a traumatic event. Around 12 % of people will experience PTSD in their lifetime (ABS, 2008).
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Someone with PTSD usually feels frequent, overwhelming and intense feelings of panic, fear, helplessness or horror– perhaps very similar to what they experienced during the traumatic event (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Overall, PTSD involves four main types of changes to thoughts, feelings and actions:
• Re-living the traumatic event – the person’s has a sense of re-experiencing the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. These are often accompanied by intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
• Being overly alert or wound up – A range of symptoms result from one’s fight/flight system being active once the traumatic event has past: sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
• Avoiding reminders of the event – Because of the distress and symptoms experienced in relation to memories of the event, the person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event.
• Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and often describes feeling detached from friends and family, or feeling emotionally flat and numb.
To learn more about who is more likely to experience PTSD and to understand myths about PTSD, visit the SANE website.
Although PTSD can be incredibly overwhelming and can make it difficult to get on with living life, the good news is, there are a range of treatment options available for PTSD. If you think you might have PTSD, it is important to see a health professional for an assessment. They can discuss with you the best options for either preventing PTSD or treating PTSD symptoms. The Black Dog Institute recommends 3 main types of treatment for PTSD: psychological therapy, medication, as well as mindfulness and exercise as self-help approaches.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, and cognitive processing therapy are the main psychological treatments available for PTSD. In particular, 4 of our team members have focused their training and experience on assisting people with PTSD. Brett, Bianca, Gabi and Liz provide treatments for PTSD, excluding eye movement desensitisation therapy. Gabi has experience working with refugees at the Nauru Detention Centre and Brett has experience providing trauma therapy in Palestine.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual if mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.