With the centuries of traumatic events throughout history such as wars and acts of God, i.e. earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, typhoons, and recent depictions of PTSD sufferers in the mainstream media, e.g. the BBC series of ‘The Bodyguard’, I felt it was time to highlight this mental health disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition, an anxiety disorder, of persistent mental and emotional stress that occurred as a result of the individual experiencing stressful, distressing or frightening events. A person with PTSD can have problems sleeping and relives the traumatic experience having flashbacks and nightmares. It can affect both children and adults.
There are numerous possible causes of PTSD:-
– Being held hostage
– A terror attack
– Serious/fatal car accidents
– Military combat
– Violent personal assault, e.g. robbery, sexual assault or mugging
– A natural disaster, e.g. hurricane, flood, earthquake or fire
– Prolonged abuse or neglect
– Being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition
– Sudden death of a close friend or relative.
These can even impact on someone who is a witness to the event not just those who personally experience it e.g. the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Manchester arena bombing, the terrorist attacks in places such as London, Paris and Germany, the bombings in Syria, the racial and anti-religion shootings in the US, the school shootings and the cop killings.
All of these events can be extremely distressing to a person and lead to a person developing PTSD symptoms.
There are risk factors that make it more likely for someone to develop PTSD after a traumatic event or make the problems worse and these include:-
– Previous personal experience of depression, anxiety or another mental illness
– People who work in high risk occupations such as firefighters, police officers, military personnel, ambulance personnel and health care professionals
– Car crash survivors
– Victims of childhood abuse
– People who don’t receive support from family, friends or professionals after the trauma
– Genetics – a family history of PTSD, depression or other mental health condition
– Experiencing repeated trauma
– Having high levels of stress in daily life
– Substance abuse
– A lack of coping skills
– Dealing with additional stress at the same time as the traumatic event, e.g. bereavement, loss or financial worries.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:-
– Nightmares, flashbacks or vivid memories of the event
– Constantly feeling on guard or on edge
– Physical reactions as reminders of the traumatic event, e.g. pain, racing heart, trembling, nausea
– Disturbed sleep or lack of sleep
– Loss of interest in things that the person previously enjoyed
– Difficulty concentrating
– Self-destructive behaviour and recklessness
– Emotional numbness
– Inability to remember important details of the traumatic event
– Substance use and abuse to avoid the memories
– Feeling jumpy and being easily started
– Feelings of guilt and shame
– Feeling alone
– Feelings of mistrust (the person feels like they can’t trust anyone)
– Depression and feelings of hopelessness
PTSD can affect a person’s physical health by making any existing physical problems worse, e.g. headaches/migraines, heart problems, chest pains, respiratory problems and stomach ailments. PTSD can lower a person’s sex drive.
PTSD impacts on a person’s mental health and increases the likelihood that they will develop another mental health illness, e.g. depression, eating disorder or substance abuse disorder. Also, a person with PTSD is much more likely to self – harm and attempt suicide.
PTSD can affect a person’s belief system. They may not longer feel that the world is safe and secure. They may come to believe that they can no longer relate to their environment or to people who have not experienced trauma.
People who have lost friends or relatives in a disaster or otherwise traumatic event may become over-protective of their family members or close friends as they fear something terrible may happen and they lose more loved ones.
PTSD and employment
PTSD can affect a person’s employment. PTSD symptoms can be so severe that it prevents the individual from operating effectively at work. The recent BBC series ‘The Bodyguard’ gives insight into how a person can be affected by PTSD during employment. There may be a lack of understanding from employers thus the symptoms are prolonged and it impacts on the person’s recovery. The person may be too ill to work, be off work long term and not feel able to return. The symptoms can affect a person’s ability to keep a job and get another in future. While working in an HR department, I had a case where a person, who was previously a soldier, was diagnosed with PTSD and hadn’t been at work for a year. He started to receive treatment externally and the specialist stated that it would be at least 18 months before he recovered sufficiently to work. After discussions, a separation from the business with generous compensation was arranged and agreed.
PTSD and personal relationships
PTSD can impact on personal relationships with family, friends, partners/spouses. The symptoms can put a big strain on friendships and relationships. The person can withdraw from others, isolate themselves, get angry or irritable and this makes it difficult to get along with other people. The person may choose to cope by using or abusing substances which can isolate them even more from their social networks.
PTSD can affect the person’s behaviour. They may start to avoid people, places or activities that are related to the event or those that remind them of the traumatic event.
Given its serious nature the question is how can PTSD be treated and managed.
– A person with PTSD can confide in someone they trust and/or close to and talk about their feelings which can help the person come to terms with their experience.
– A person can give themselves time to deal with what they are going through. They need to be patient with themselves and decide when they are ready to talk about their experiences.
– A person with PTSD can access peer support where they meet others with similar experiences. This helps with their recovery and the person feels less isolated as they are around people they can identify with.
– A person can contact an organisation that specialises in PTSD, e.g. ASSIST Trauma Care. This type of specialist organisation can provide information, advice and support to the person.
– A person with PTSD can look after their physical health by having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, spending time outdoors and avoid drugs and alcohol which can make the symptoms worse.
– A person with PTSD can practise mindfulness techniques, e.g. breathing exercises and yoga, which can deal with the intrusive thoughts and reduce anxiety.
– A person with PTSD can become aware of their triggers and in so doing recognise the early signs of a flashback or memory of the event. Keeping a diary may help in this regard. – A person can develop other healthy coping strategies such as finding something which comforts them like soothing music or watching a favourite film or work on finding solutions to their problems.
Family, friends and colleagues can help the person cope with their condition by doing the following:-
– Offer comfort and support to the person with PTSD so that they don’t feel alone and become isolated.
– Help the person seek the support and treatment that they need. They can remind the person of appointments with specialists or peer support meetings.
– Be patient and understanding of the recovery process and its length. They need to understand that it takes time for the person to get better.
– Listen to the person, not be judgemental or make assumptions about how the person feels. They should allow the person to talk about the traumatic event even if it’s multiple times. This social support is vital for the person with PTSD to get help and recover.
– Learn more about PTSD so that they can understand what the person is going through.
– Try not to take the person’s attitudes personally. The person’s anger, irritability and emotionally numbness are not because of them but are symptoms of the PTSD.
– Look after their mental health so that they remain in a stable position and condition to support and help the person with PTSD.
– Be aware of, anticipate and prepare for the triggers that remind the person of the traumatic event. In this way others can be in a better position to help and support the person
– Avoid telling the person with PTSD to get over what is affected them and move on. They need to be sympathetic to what the person is going through.
– A doctor can refer the person to therapists and counsellors who can offer psychological therapy.
The Samaritans can provide emotional support to the person with PTSD. Mental health charities can offer advice, information and support.
– In a group therapy setting, the person has the opportunity to talk about their experiences with others who also have PTSD. This type of setting helps the person understand their experience (s), learn how to manage their symptoms and find healthy ways of coping.
– Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) involves the person making side to side eye movements while recalling the incident. These eye movements are supposed to stimulate the information processing system within the brain. This treatment is to help the person process the trauma, change the way they think about the event and help them begin to recover.
– Trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps a person recognise the negative feelings associated with the trauma, change their negative ways of thinking to more positive ones which then leads to more positive behaviours.
– Psychodynamic therapy – This form of treatment focuses on the emotions and feelings that the person with PTSD experiences and helps the person with PTSD learn how to manage these intense emotions and feelings.
– Medication, specifically antidepressants, can treat the symptoms of PTSD such as depression, anxiety and sleep problems.
PTSD is a major mental health condition that affects people across the globe and in the current global climate it is important to recognise that this disorder is likely to appear in earnest. Employers need to be extremely mindful of how to support those who are affected as well as those who suppose those who experience it. Hospitals, police forces, fire departments and other organisations who have employees who work in high pressure situations on a regular basis have a duty of care to provide the adequate support to individuals who serve selflessly to the public.
Ms. Jolene King, Principal Consultant of 246 King Consulting, has over 15 years business management and HR international experience gained in the UK, USA and Barbados. She holds a MA degree in Human Resource Management from University of Derby, a MSc. degree in Industrial/Organisational Psychology from Florida Institute of Technology and a BSc. degree in Sociology with Psychology from University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Ms. King is an active committee member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Northamptonshire branch and is an Associate member of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (SIOP).
Contact Jolene King via firstname.lastname@example.org, website:- http://246king.com.