What is PTSD?

Recognising the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a long-term mental health condition and response to a severe and harrowing experience, or events. Someone with PTSD may have witnessed or experienced a violent assault, sexual abuse, torture, traumatic accident, devastating injury or survived active combat.

PTSD is most commonly associated with people who have served in the Armed Forces. But the majority of people – around 95 per cent – who are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, come from other walks of life.

The symptoms of PTSD can occur in emergency service, rescue, transport, support and other workers exposed to to traumatic injury, death, disaster and dangerous situations, as well as people who have been abused, assaulted, or survived life-changing trauma.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Emotional responses to devastating events include depression, anxiety, anger, helplessness, guilt and grief. This is known as an acute stress reaction and is experienced by most people who survive or witness a traumatic event.

With emotional support, therapy, or medication many people can live through an acute stress reaction and, within a month or two, feel they’re in a place to get on with their normal life.

PSTD can make it harder to cope with an acute stress reaction and function in the aftermath of an emotional trauma. The symptoms of post traumatic stress can begin within hours or days, or over a period of months of an incident.

The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are broadly defined in three groups. As well as primary response emotions, someone with PTSD can experience

  • Nightmares and flashbacks – which are realistic and terrifying

  • Avoidance and numbing – avoiding thoughts, people and places that may take your mind back

  • Hypervigilance – feeling wired, anxious, jumpy and constantly on guard

PTSD can cause depression and panic attacks, and physical symptoms including aches and pains, sleeplessness and heart palpitations. It may feel tempting to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, with a risk of dependence.

Help and support with PTSD

If you are struggling with the symptoms of PTSD, talk to your GP. It can be tempting to bottle up your feelings, especially if you work in an an environment where it seems as though everyone else is coping. PTSD is not a sign of weakness, but a natural response.

You may be advised, with support, to continue with as many of your daily routines as possible. Treatment programmes for PTSD are based around psychotherapy, with some people also prescribed medication for their depression. Physical therapies such as yoga, massage, meditation or T’ai Chi may also be recommended to help counter PTSD-related stress.

Psychotherapies for PTSD are focused on the experience you’ve lived through. They aim to modify the habits of thinking that draw your mind back to things you cannot change. Though you cannot undo what you experienced, psychotherapy can support you to better control and process difficult memories and learn to function and flourish in everyday life.

If you’re struggling to cope with PTSD symptoms or feel alone, you can turn to us.

At Make a Difference, everyone’s mental health is valued. If it would help to talk with someone about what you’ve been through or are feeling, we’re here for you.

You don’t need a PTSD diagnosis, referral or appointment to access mental wellbeing support and friendship at Make a Difference.