Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a psychological and physical condition that can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where 1) we experience being in danger, or our life is threatened in some way, or where we see other people dying or being seriously injured; and 2) our reactions involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.

Some typical traumatic events include:
  • serious accidents
  • military combat
  • violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
  • being taken hostage
  • terrorist attack
  • being a political prisoner or prisoner-of-war
  • natural or man-made disasters
  • being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience.

In addition, there are three main types of symptoms:

1) Flashbacks & nightmares

You find yourself re-living the event, again and again, even when you do not want to. This can happen both as a ‘flashback’ in the day and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again.

You see it in your mind, but may also feel the emotions and physical sensations of what happened – fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain.

Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks. For instance, if you were mugged in a street with terraced housing, walking down a similar street might start a flashback.

2) Avoidance & numbing

It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you try to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma, or avoid activities, places or people that remind you of what happened.

Or you may find yourself being unable to recall an important aspect of the trauma, or that you show less interest in activities you previously enjoyed. You may deal with the pain of your feelings by cutting off from other people and trying to feel nothing at all. Your sense of the future may be affected – you may feel you can no longer expect to have a long term relationship, children, career or live to a comfortable old age like other people.

3) Constant arousal and being ‘on guard’

You find that you can’t relax; you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. The slightest thing sets you off. You find it difficult to concentrate on things and have problems falling or staying asleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable. (‘It’s like walking on eggshells around them’).

Does everyone get PTSD after a traumatic experience?

Nearly everyone will have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the first month or so. This is called an ‘acute stress reaction’.

Over a few weeks, most people slowly come to terms with what has happened, and their stress symptoms start to disappear. However, about 30% of people find that their symptoms carry on and that they can’t come to terms with their trauma.

Treating PTSD

PTSD can be successfully treated even when it occurs many years after the traumatic event. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, and how soon they develop after the traumatic event, a number of different treatment strategies may be recommended.

active monitoring: waiting to see if the symptoms improve or get worse without treatment,
psychological treatment, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EDMR), and
medication, such as paroxetine or mirtazapine
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for PTSD focuses on the traumatic experience(s). You cannot change or forget what has happened. You can learn to think differently about it, about the world, and about your life.

You need to be able to recall what happened without being overwhelmed by fear and distress. CBT helps you to remember the event (s), put words to your experience and make sense of it so that your mind can do its normal job of storing the memories away, and move on to other things.

When you start to feel safer, and more in control of your feelings, you won’t need to avoid the memories or the reminders of the events(s) or block them out in the same way as before.

EMDR is a technique which uses eye movements to help the brain to process flashbacks and to make sense of the traumatic experience. Inclusion Thurrock offers this as part of other therapeutic approaches.

Self-help and finding out more…

You might find the following self-help guide to coping with trauma helpful in learning more about your own situation.

Accessing Talking Therapies in Thurrock

If you feel that talking therapies could help you, please call us on 01375 898680 to book an assessment, complete our Online Referral Form, or talk to your GP about a referral to our service. We operate from GP Practices and other community locations across Thurrock, so we’re often able to provide support near to where you live.