PTSD is a condition that develops in some people after experiencing an event which is dangerous or life-threatening. Feeling scared is a natural response during a traumatic event because it triggers a ‘fight-or-flight’ response to protect us from harm. Everyone will experience a range of reactions after traumatic event but most people will recover from these initial symptoms. However, those who continue to experience problems may be suffering with PTSD and may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
Signs and Symptoms
Not every person who goes through a traumatic event develop PTSD. Symptoms usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic incident although they may begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD. The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic.
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PTSD can be diagnosed and treated by psychiatrist, psychologists & counsellors. The symptoms in adults are as below. Although it is normal to experience these symptoms after a traumatic event, these symptoms should NOT remain after 1 month such that it affects their ability to work or drive them to depression or substance abuse.
- At least one re-experiencing symptom (such as flashbacks, bad dreams or thoughts)
- At least one avoidance symptom (such as staying away from things, places or events related to the traumatic event)
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (feeling tense, frequent angry outbursts, easily startled or difficulty sleeping)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (negative self-thoughts, guilt feelings, loss of interest in previous favourite activities or feeling detached from friends & family)
Children react differently compared to adults and their symptoms may include the following:
- Bed wetting
- Keeping silent or even regressing to not being unable to talk
- Acting out the scary event
- Unusually clingy to the parents
Risk Factors which increases the chance of getting PTSD
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- Living through dangerous events such as war or natural disasters
- Getting hurt or seeing another person hurt in the event (such as car accident)
- Childhood trauma which has not been forgotten
- Having minimal or no social support after the event
- Having extra stress after the event (such as loss of a loved one or job, chronic pain from an injury sustained at the event)
- Having a history substance abuse
Treatments and Therapies
The main treatment for PTSD is a combination of psychotherapy, counselling or medication.
In severe cases, anti-depressants or medication to help with sleep may be prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Psychotherapy involves being connected with a mental health professional such as a counsellor or psychologist who can provide professional support. The sessions can be one-to-one online or clinic consultation and can also be in a group session. It is important to have support from family and friends during the treatment period and also deal with any outside issues such as job-related problems, substance abuse or relationship issues.
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Effective psychotherapy involve education about recognising the symptoms and teaching skills to help identify the trigger factors.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can involve:
(a) Exposure therapy to help people face and control their fear by gradually exposing them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way.
(b) Cognitive restructuring to help people make realistic sense of the bad memories and gradually remove any bad feelings of guilt or shame.
- Relaxation and anger-control skills
- Guidance to better sleep, diet and exercise habits
It may be very hard to take that first step to help yourself. Set realistic targets and break up large tasks into smaller achievable ones. Take one step at a time and aim for gradual improvements. Do not be shy to reach out for help and support from your family, friends and mental health practitioners.