Expert Advice: Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness, which can take place because of a life-threatening or a dreadfully frightening experience. Interestingly, earlier, this health condition was called by different names such as, ‘soldier’s heart’ during the American Civil War, ‘combat fatigue’ during World War I and ‘gross stress reaction’ during World War II. It was only in 1980 that PTSD was recognised as a health condition; a condition that occurs because of the prolonged exposure to a traumatic event. Today with expert insight from Dr. Pulkit Sharma, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytical Therapist at VIMHANS, let's understand post traumatic stress disorder in detail.
Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors of PTSD. PTSD is caused when a person is confronted with an overwhelming experience where there is an actual or perceived threat of death, psychological or physical injury. Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, physical assault, war, imprisonment, sexual assault, terrorist attacks, domestic violence, group violence, emotional neglect and abuse often trigger PTSD. Such instances overwhelm the person psychologically and lead to changes in brain neurochemistry.
Symptoms of PTSD are:
- Hyperarousal: The person’s mind and body are in a restless state. The person finds it hard to relax or concentrate on anything; they are constantly scanning the environment for danger signs and get provoked easily. They get disturbed sleep and remain irritable.
- Excessive Avoidance: The person withdraws from everything and starts avoiding stimuli, which may be connected to the event. They give up work, socializing and activities of daily living. They look detached and numb. Some individuals may deny the traumatic event and have little or no memory of it in order to deal with the pain.
- Reliving Trauma: Some people experience nightmares, memories and flashbacks where they see and feel the event powerfully as if it was happening all over again. This is extremely distressing and painful for the person.
There are people who develop anxiety and depression as a consequence.
Signs and Tests of PTSD. PTSD can be diagnosed by a trained psychologist or mental health professional while interviewing the person in detail and matching the symptoms with DSM-IV-TR or ICD-10 criteria. There are some psychological questionnaires and rating scales to assess the intensity and frequency of PTSD symptoms.
Treatment of PTSD. In the initial phase, some medications may be required to reduce the arousal and panic. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavior therapy and EMDR are quite effective in dealing with specific symptoms of trauma such as avoidance, flashbacks and arousal. Psychodynamic therapy is helpful in understanding and working through the personality changes, which occur after a traumatic event.
Lifestyle Changes in PTSD. It is important to understand that recovery will take time. Encourage yourself to get back to normal life but do not push it. The unpleasant emotions and psychological symptoms take a long time to heal and settle down. Seeking support from family members, friends, survivor groups and psychologist speeds up recovery.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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