Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis given to people who develop a certain set of symptoms following a traumatic event.
What is PTSD?
- Reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or nightmares.
- Constantly feeling on edge and alert, experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks.
- Avoiding feelings or memories of the event through keeping busy or avoiding talking about the event.
- Not being able to remember the event, through dissociation or feeling physically or emotionally numb.
PTSD can begin immediately after the traumatic event has happened, or it might begin weeks, months or years later.
A doctor will make a diagnosis of PTSD based on someone's thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It is important to remember that a diagnosis is not a label. It is a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support to offer. Diagnoses may also change over the course of someone's lifetime.
I re-live the pain, fears, guilt, shame of my past all over again, and it continues to make me unwell - Carole
How common is PTSD?
It is difficult to know how common PTSD is, as many people describe it in different ways and many will never receive a formal diagnosis. However, it is estimated around 4.4% of the population will fit the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis in any week.
What are some of the myths and misconceptions about PTSD?
Some people hold unhelpful beliefs about what PTSD means, for example they assume that PTSD only affects people who have been involved in war. However, any traumatic event can cause PTSD, including neglect and abuse in childhood, accidents, a violent or sexual attack, harassment or bullying and many more.
These inaccurate beliefs prevent people from taking their own, or other's, problems seriously and can stop people getting the help they need. This can lead to the loss of friends, family relationships, jobs, homes and even lives.
I’ve survived three separate traumatic experiences and often I find myself thinking ‘I have no right to feel this way.’ But I do - Ella
How does PTSD affect people's lives?
The symptoms of PTSD can be extremely difficult to deal with. They can make it hard to maintain relationships, to work or even carry out simple everyday tasks. Some people find it so difficult to cope that they self-harm, turn to alcohol or drugs, or take their own lives. People who experience PTSD will often have to deal with symptoms at varying degrees for the rest of their lives. However, there are treatments and coping strategies which can help people to manage their symptoms and live healthy and fulfilling lives.
I joined Essex Police in December 1986 and after many experiences, my mental health started to decline in 2013. Every now and again I would get flashbacks to certain incidents. I would feel sick as the memories flooded back. Other times, I would feel an overwhelming sense of despair, feeling that life was just not worth living - Alan
I take precautions with my mental health. I have recognised the early symptoms of when a panic attack might occur (sounds become louder, colours become brighter, breathing becomes difficult) and use cognitive behavioural techniques which mean that, nine times out of ten, I can pull myself out of it - Natasha
How can I help someone with PTSD?
Learn about PTSD
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about PTSD. This may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.
Be patient, don't judge
The symptoms of PTSD are very normal human reactions to often tragic events. It may seem like your friend or family member should be 'moving on' by now, but they need time and support to heal. Try not to put pressure on them or make assumptions about how they 'should' be behaving.
One thing my wife and my son do is that they treat me perfectly normally. When I’m having a rough time, when I’m in a dark place, they don’t smother me, they don’t wrap me in cotton wool, they don’t patronise me – they just love me for who I am, and what I’m going through - Gary
Ask them how you can help
Everybody is different and there is no one way to help someone experiencing PTSD. If you want to support a friend or loved one, one of the best things to do is ask them how.
Give them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS , private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.
As well as treatment provided by medical professionals, such as psychological therapies and medication, community based support related to lifestyle, education or social activities can also help someone stay well.