A traffic accident, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a rape – the very thought of these incidents makes us shiver down our spines. When a person is faced with tragic life situations that threaten his health and life, he is exposed to severe stress, and the event itself may become traumatizing and lead to psychological trauma. The consequence of the trauma may be persistent difficulties in returning to normal functioning, often observed in people suffering from PTSD.
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Post-traumatic stress disorder – causes
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and the event has caused them a strong feeling of fear and helplessness.
Traumatic events that may result in the development of PTSD include, for example:
- sexual assault
- natural disaster,
- serious accident,
- terrorist attack,
- armed assault,
- heavy beating,
Post-traumatic stress disorder – symptoms
PTSD symptoms often appear with a delay in relation to the traumatic event. The length of this delay is an individual matter and varies greatly from person to person, e.g. for one person it is 2 weeks and another for 10 years. Some people who develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder return to normal functioning over time and do not require professional help. However, it is recommended that people whose symptoms persist for a long time (months, years), do not ease or even intensify, start treatment, because in this course of the disorder there is a small chance that they will disappear spontaneously.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:
Reliving a traumatic situation by:
- recurring, intrusive thoughts that the person with PTSD cannot get rid of, reminding them of the trauma;
- flashbacks, or flashbacks, visions in which a person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder feels as if the trauma happened again. Expressive images of a traumatic event are recalled from memory, accompanied by strong emotions and physical reactions.
- Avoidance – This symptom is characterized by the avoidance of objects, people, places and actions that remind you of the trauma.
- A persistent feeling of guilt and shame.
- Feelings of emptiness, dullness and the inability to experience pleasure – A person struggling with PTSD may abandon interests and activities that previously gave them pleasure. It isolates itself from family and friends. She is accompanied by a constant feeling of alienation.
- Over-excitation (hyperarousal) – A state of over-excitation is characterized by irritability, problems with concentration, sleep disturbances, a strong feeling of tension, high levels of anxiety and a tendency to risky behavior.
- People after traumatic experiences can often perceive the world as a dangerous place, which causes their body to be alert and constantly ready for possible attack from the environment.
Risk factors for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder
Not every person who experiences extreme stress from a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are factors that make one person more susceptible than the other. We include among them:
- genetic susceptibility to mental disorders,
- certain personality traits (e.g. neuroticism),
- experience of trauma in the past (e.g. in childhood),
- low level of support from family and friends,
- low economic status,
- negative life changes that took place in a similar period as the traumatic event (e.g. job loss, departure of a spouse),
- disability resulting from a traumatic event (e.g. a car accident or assault),
- threat to life resulting from the experience of aggression and violence on the part of another human being. It has been scientifically proven that harms intentionally caused by another human being (e.g. rape, torture) are more traumatic than natural disasters that are impersonal in nature, beyond human control and inevitable,
- traumatic events in which the threat was prolonged and extreme, was associated with a high risk of loss of life (e.g. staying in a concentration camp, many years of fighting at the front).
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Diseases coexisting with post-traumatic stress disorder
People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may also struggle with other diseases and mental disorders. It happens that these diseases appeared in a person with PTSD even before the traumatic event, and then they may be a risk factor for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is also a risk that the underlying disease develops as a consequence of PTSD and its symptoms. An example of such a sequelae may be alcohol dependence. A person with PTSD begins to use alcohol as a ‘healing’ agent to help them deal with the symptoms of PTSD, improve their mood, reduce anxiety, and help them sleep.
The presence of other psychiatric conditions in a person struggling with PTSD negatively affects their health, increasing the severity of PTSD symptoms and hindering the treatment process.
Mental disorders that often coexist with PTSD include:
- addiction to psychoactive substances,
- generalized anxiety disorder,
- sleep disturbance.
Treatment of a person struggling with PTSD
Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder is carried out by combining various methods of psychotherapy. When symptoms worsen and are extremely bothersome for the patient, it may be helpful to include pharmacotherapy in the treatment process.
The psychotherapies used to treat PTSD that are indicated as having the best results include:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy – It uses different types of exposure techniques, training in anxiety management, relaxation techniques, and inoculation training against stress. This type of psychotherapy emphasizes understanding the nature of the disorder and teaching the patient the ability to cope with difficult situations. As a result of the therapy, there is a reduction in the level of anxiety, symptoms of avoidance and intrusion (flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts).
Group therapy. Thanks to the group format, it is possible for people who have suffered a similar trauma to meet. Group members support each other in difficult times, which reduces their sense of isolation and loneliness, and allows them to feel accepted and understood.
A person struggling with PTSD is a prisoner of their past. Trauma does not allow her to fully enjoy life and is a source of constant suffering. Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder is a chance for recovery and should be started as soon as possible to avoid worsening of symptoms and reduce the risk of developing addiction or depression as a consequence of long-term coping with PTSD symptoms.
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