Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by experiencing very stressful, frightening or distressing events, including:

  • military combat
  • serious road accidents
  • terrorist attacks
  • natural disasters
  • being held hostage
  • witnessing violent deaths
  • assaults

PTSD can occur immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can happen some time later in the weeks, months or even years following the trigger event(s).

PTSD can develop in any situation where a person feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness. However, it does not usually develop after situations that are simply upsetting, such as divorce, job loss or failing exams.

PTSD affects up to 30 per cent of people who experience a traumatic event. It affects around 5 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women at some point during their life. It can occur at any age, including during childhood.

Symptoms

It is common for a person with PTSD to often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks. Feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt can also occur. A person with PRSD may have problems with sleeping and concentration. These symptoms are often severe enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.

A person with PTSD might also exhibit avoidance - pushing memories of the event out of their mind, avoiding talking about the event or stopping going to associated places or meeting associated people.

A person with PTSD may focus on asking questions about the event (e.g. why did it happen to me?) and this can prevent them from coming to terms with it.

People with PTSD may also become detached and feel guilty or feel nothing at all (this is known as emotional numbing). Other symptoms can include alcohol or drug abuse, depression, phobias, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach upsets.

Treatment

A person with PTSD may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychiatric nurse for help. 

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends psychotherapy as the first treatment to try for PTSD. A psychotherapist is a trained mental health professional. They listen to their patients and help them come up with effective strategies to resolve their problems. In some cases, medication may be used alongside psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also used to treat severe PTSD – this therapy aims to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act. CBT uses a range of psychological treatment techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event.

Search for PTSD services using our clinical service finder.

Find out more about psychological therapy in this short film.

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