Many people think of PTSD as something that affects those who have had traumatic experiences while serving in the military, but it can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the name given to a set of symptoms that some people develop after experiencing major traumatic events. The traumatic event can be a single incident or take place over many months or years.
The condition can be brought on by events such as serious traffic accidents, rape or sexual abuse, domestic violence, physical assault, traumatic childbirth, witnessing a violent death or virtually any other situation that is exceptionally threatening or catastrophic and likely to cause distress in almost anyone.
Symptoms of PTSD
People living with PTSD often experience repeated and intrusive distressing memories of the event.
There may also be a feeling of reliving (or ‘re-experiencing’) the event through ‘flashbacks’ or ‘nightmares’, which can be very distressing and disorientating. There can also be physical reactions such as shaking and sweating.
More recently, complex PTSD has also been identified, which may harbour similar symptoms to PTSD, but with additional symptoms such as difficulty controlling your emotions, constant feelings of hopelessness, dissociative symptoms such as depersonalisation, and many more.
10 things you may not know about PTSD
- Two million people in the UK are affected by PTSD.
- Only one in four of those living with PTSD get treatment.
- £400,000 is spent on research on PTSD each year in the UK.
- Exercise can help manage PTSD.
- People have different thresholds for trauma.
- Children can also develop PTSD.
- Some studies show that giving people an opportunity to talk about their experiences very soon after a catastrophic event may reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD.
- Women are at higher risk of developing PTSD.
- For some people therapy might be all that’s needed for treatment.
- Even when no longer in danger, some people with PTSD continuously release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline – the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.
If you think you might have PTSD you should first see your GP who will perform an initial assessment.
Depending upon the outcome of this, your GP will decide whether you need a referral to a primary care mental health worker, your local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) or another service, depending on your needs.
If you are referred to your local CMHT you will receive a further, more detailed assessment, and you may then be referred on to a specialist traumatic stress service or receive help from within the team.
Treatment for PTSD
Psychological therapies are considered to be the most effective treatments for PTSD.
In particular, there is good evidence that two types of psychological treatments which focus on the traumatic event called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TFCBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) are effective.
Both techniques have been shown to reduce the symptoms and the distress experienced by PTSD sufferers.
Cardiff University research trials into new treatments using both of these techniques have seen success over the last few years:
- The RAPID trial looked at creating a new guided self-help tool, using an online programme called Spring.
- 3MDR or Modular Motion-assisted Memory Desensitisation and Reconsolidation, is a new treatment, originally developed in the Netherlands, that combines Virtual Reality Exposure and EMDR, and adds motion through walking on a treadmill.
Other treatments such as medication and stress management techniques are sometimes used to treat PTSD and can be helpful, although these have not been shown to be as effective.
There are a variety of treatment options for PTSD and while medication can be very helpful, it isn’t the only option. Often, just talking to a professional can be the most effective way to work through the trauma and learn how to manage the symptoms.
Be forgiving to yourself
Give yourself time and space to acknowledge what you have been through and that you are having strong emotional reactions to it.
Avoid using alcohol and drugs to make you feel better. Although these may make you feel better in the short term, they can cause serious problems for you and your loved ones. They can also worsen symptoms and interfere with treatment.
Stick to normal routines as much as possible. If you have problems with sleep try to keep to a regular time when you wake and get up and avoid caffeinated drinks after 4pm.
Tips for carers
- Try to be patient and understanding with the person with PTSD.
- Don’t put pressure on the person with PTSD to talk about their experience, but do allow them time and space to talk about it if they want to.
- If they haven’t done so, try to encourage them to seek professional help. A good place to start is discussing things with your GP.
- HHP Wales referral form
- HHP Wales self-help resources
- NCMH leaflet | Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- NCMH podcast | Episode 2: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Health for Health Professionals Wales (HHP Wales) offers access to mental health support for all NHS Wales employees, students and volunteers.
HHP Wales is a free, confidential service that is supported by Welsh Government funding and administered through Cardiff University.
- Mental Help | Facts about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Mind | About PTSD
- MQ | Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- NCMH blog | 3MDR study: a new treatment for PTSD
- NCMH | Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- PTSD Journal | 10 Surprising Facts About PTSD
- PTSD UK | What is PTSD?
- Very Well Mind | The Benefits of Exercise for People With PTSD