Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. It causes intense and recurring emotional distress, intrusive memories and nightmares — as well as extreme physical symptoms.
If you have PTSD, the trauma seems to be constantly with you — it disrupts your thoughts, feelings and day-to-day life. But with treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms. And many are eventually able to heal completely.
Who does PTSD affect?
About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Women are more likely than men to develop symptoms of PTSD, and the disorder is also more common in people who have experienced trauma early in life.
The symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can vary greatly from person to person. They may include:
• Recurring memories or nightmares of the traumatic event
• intrusive thoughts about the event
• Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from others
• avoidance of anything that might remind you of the event
• Hyperarousal — feeling constantly on edge, being easily startled or having trouble sleeping
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, chest pain or dizziness.
How is PTSD treated?
PTSD is usually treated with a combination of therapies, including counselling and medication. Counselling may involve talk therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps you deal with the thoughts and feelings that are keeping you stuck in the past. Medication may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs or sleep aids.
With treatment, most people are able to manage their symptoms and eventually recover from PTSD. However, the process of healing can be slow and difficult, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You may need to try a few different therapies before you find what works best for you.
If you think you may have PTSD, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment can make a big difference in your life — and the sooner you start, the better.
How can I help myself with PTSD?
Talking about your traumatic experience can be one of the most difficult parts of recovering from PTSD. Although it may seem natural to withdraw from others after trauma, in time you’ll find that being open is actually good for your mental health. Find people in your life who are willing to listen—a trusted family member or friend, a counsellor, or even someone you meet through an organisation. Talking about what happened with these people will help you heal emotionally and move forward in your life.
How can I help my loved one with PTSD?
If someone close to you has PTSD, their symptoms could affect how they act toward you. They may seem depressed or around you without warning — they may even be angry or abusive. It’s important to remember that these behaviours are not personal, and they are not a reflection of your relationship.
The best thing you can do for a loved one with PTSD is to be there for them. Offer emotional support, understanding and patience. Let them know that you’re there to listen when they want to talk and be respectful of their need for privacy at other times. And if they’re open to it, offer to go to counselling together.
PTSD can be a frightening and isolating condition, but with the right help and support, it’s possible to overcome it. If you or someone close to you is struggling with PTSD, don’t hesitate to seek out professional assistance.