What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing, or witnessing, a horrible, traumatic or catastrophic event. Signs of PTSD include things like mentally re-experiencing the trauma and having mind and bodily senses that feel heightened, like a red alert. With treatments such as CBT, counselling, and/or medication, it can be effectively treated.

This could be for you if...

  • you've experienced or witnessed something traumatic
  • you keep re-experiencing the event, despite not wanting to 
  • you feel like you're constantly on “high alert”
  • you have nightmares about the event and try to avoid thinking about it or being reminded of it.
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PTSD – What is it?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder.  When you experience a traumatic event like a car crash, violence, sexual assault or accident, it's normal to have a really hard time dealing with it straight away and for a time afterwards. Some people start to get better over the course of a month or so. If the reaction is severe, lasts longer than a month and has certain symptoms (like the ones mentioned below), it's known as PTSD.

What causes PTSD?

Any of the things we've listed above, and any other traumatic event, can result in PTSD. It doesn't even need to have happened to you directly. If you witness a horrific event, you can also develop PTSD. If the situation you were in involved extreme fear, helplessness or horror, it’s more likely that you could develop PTSD.

How will I know?

There are many signs of PTSD. The major one is that you're constantly reliving the traumatic event – whether it's in flashbacks (intense re-experiencing), intrusive memories, dreams, or in any other way. Other signs that you've got PTSD can include: 

  • avoiding situations that might remind you of the trauma
  • insomnia 
  • increased alertness and watchfulness
  • being easily startled 
  • a quick, irrational temper 
  • difficulty concentrating.

What can I do?

The bad news is that you can't just wait for it to go away. On the plus side, you can take steps to deal with PTSD, and if you follow through with them, it will get better. 

Exercising, and returning to your old routines can help you heal faster. You probably won't feel like it, but it'll help. 

You should also see a doctor or psychologist to help treat the symptoms. If your first stop is a GP, they're likely to send you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further treatment. Most cases take about 10-16 weeks of psychological treatment  to resolve. Your doctor may decide to put you on short-term medication to help you feel better.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 22 May, 2014
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