Trauma & Post-Traumatic Stress

Trauma & Post-traumatic Stress

Does the world feel like a frightening, dangerous place for you?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a group of stress reactions that can develop after we witness a traumatic event, such as death, serious injury or sexual violence to ourselves or to others.

 

What is PTSD?

  • PTSD is a mental health condition that may occur after a traumatic event, or after multiple traumatic events.
  • PTSD can happen after there’s been actual or threatened serious injury, death or sexual violence to ourselves or others.
  • PTSD can also occur after repeated and extreme exposure to the details of traumatic events. For example, emergency workers may be exposed to repeated trauma at work.

Direct and indirect exposure to trauma

Our exposure to a traumatic event can be:

  • direct – when we’ve experienced a personal trauma or witnessed a traumatic event
  • indirect – when we hear/learn about a traumatic event.

Potentially traumatic events, include:

  • sexual assault
  • physical attack
  • being threatened with a gun, knife or other weapon
  • domestic violence or abuse
  • childhood physical or emotional abuse
  • serious car accidents
  • distressing home or workplace accidents
  • seeing someone being killed or badly injured
  • being held captive
  • wars
  • terrorist attacks
  • natural disasters like bushfires, floods, earthquakes
  • torture
  • fire
  • plane crashes
  • being first on the scene where someone has been seriously injured or killed
  • repeated exposure to the details of extreme traumatic events.

 

Dr Stewart Hase on PTSD: Imagine the following. You constantly anticipate that something awful could happen at any moment and you feel on edge all the time; you are easily startled and feel as if you are watching the world as a video rather than being a part of it; you wake up in the middle of the night, perhaps more than once, with your heart pounding, frightened, sweating profusely having had an awful nightmare; sleep is always broken and you feel exhausted all the time; at random times during the day, you remember a traumatic (or many) event that just comes into your mind and it causes you to feel anxious and distressed; sometimes you feel as if you are reliving the traumatic event; you have panic attacks that come out of the blue or as a result of thinking about a traumatic event; angry outbursts have affected your relationships and your loved ones are finding living with you difficult; you’re drinking too much and this is affecting your relationships and your work; and you feel depressed most of the time, as if your life is out of control, helpless and sad.

This is the world of someone who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a reaction to a traumatic event that lasts more than six-months and, for many, for years later, if left untreated. The person who develops PTSD will have directly experienced a traumatic event or witnessed one or perhaps a loved family member has gone through a traumatic experience. Police and ambulance officers, nurses, doctors and others who have to directly deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as human remains, can also develop the disorder.

Bullying and harassment have also been shown to cause PTSD. It’s important to realise that only a relatively small number of people who experience trauma with go on to develop the disorder.

 PTSD is a complex condition that varies in severity and, therefore, the type of treatment. People with moderate to severe forms of this condition often need medication that they might take for a long time, perhaps for life. There are a range of psychological treatments for PTSD and they need to be tailored to the needs of the individual since all cases are different.

Symptoms to look out for

No two people react in the same way, but there are four main types of problems or symptoms you may experience if you have PTSD:

  1. Re-experiencing the trauma:
  • Having upsetting memories of the event (e.g., through flashbacks, vivid memories, nightmare or even feeling as if the event is actually happening again)
  • Feeling really upset and scared when reminded of the trauma
  1. Avoiding reminders of the event:
  • Avoiding people, places or situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Avoiding ever talking about the trauma
  • Using drugs or alcohol to stop the memories
  1. Negative changes in thoughts and mood after the trauma:
  • Being constantly irritable, anxious, afraid, angry, guilty or ashamed, numb or flat
  • Having little interest or no longer enjoying activities and hobbies
  • Feeling cut off from friends and family
  1. Feeling ‘on edge’, ‘wound up’ and overly aroused:
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Feeling always ‘on edge’ or jumpy
  • Self-harming
  • Taking risks (more than usual)

Lived experience:

“I feel like there’s this wall around me now. Even if I’m standing right next to someone, I feel like they’re a million miles away. My friends don’t get it, so I’ve pretty much stopped talking to them.”

“Since the assault, I can’t handle people talking about violence at all. If people start talking about it. I just leave the room, even if it’s during class. My teachers aren’t happy about that, but I seriously can’t help it.”

 Most of us will experience some symptoms of trauma in the days and weeks immediately following a traumatic event. However, if you’ve been through a traumatic event and you’re having trouble coping, especially if things are not getting better after 2, 3, 4 weeks, it’s important to ask for help. If you can relate to this, visit your doctor/ GP or mental health professional. There are treatments available, and your doctor/ GP or mental health professional can work with you to figure out a plan that suits you. Remember that everyone responds differently to treatments and strategies, so figuring out what works for you might take some time. It’s important to keep at it until you find the right fit.


THE LIVIN HEALTH INITIATIVE

116,044

People reached thanks to your help #ITAINTWEAKTOSPEAK

1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness each year. Many suffer in silence due to the stigma and lack of education around mental health. LIVIN is helping change this. Each flag represents where we have delivered our LIVINWell In School program. Help us fill the map and spread the word that “It ain’t weak to speak”.