If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) having been involved in a traumatic event or been the witness to a traumatic incident, your life would have been turned upside down making the world a place that is no longer safe for you to be in. There are many charities and organisations throughout the UK that provide essential support both emotional and practical to people who experienced a traumatic event. Trained people are there to help you recover and cope with the effects that post-traumatic stress disorder has on your overall health and your life.
To find out more on who is out there to help you heal and recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, please read on.
- What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- When is PTSD Diagnosed?
- What Causes Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
- What is Secondary Trauma?
- What Are the Different Types of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
- What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
- The Reasons Why PTSD Has a Physical Effect on You
- Flashbacks, What are They?
- What Are the Other Impacts of Suffering from PTSD?
- What Other Mental Health Problems Can I Suffer From Alongside PTSD?
- Who is Most at Risk of Developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
- What is Complex PTSD?
- What Other Terms Describe Complex PTSD?
- Emotional Flashbacks Associated with Complex PTSD
- What Causes Complex PTSD?
- What is Misdiagnosis With BPD?
- What Treatments Are Available for Sufferers of Complex PTSD?
- Can I Help Myself If I Suffer from PTSD?
- Are There Any Tips On How to Cope with Flashbacks?
- Get to Know Your Triggers
- Are There Any Treatments for PTSD?
- Further Resources
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that you can suffer from following a traumatic event whether you were the victim of an incident or you witnessed it. Post-traumatic stress disorder was first recognised as a serious condition that many war veterans suffered from and was initially referred to as “shell shock”. However, a lot of people are known to suffer from PTSD other than active soldiers. It is now known that many types of traumatic experiences can result in a person developing post-traumatic stress disorder and it leaves them with the feeling that there are things in the world that may and could, harm them.
If you have been involved or been a witness to an extremely traumatic event, it can leave you with a feeling of numbness. You may have real difficulty sleeping. Both are sometimes referred to as experiencing an “acute stress reaction”. You may find that the symptoms go away after a few weeks. However, if the symptoms you experience go on for more than a month, a doctor or other medical professional may diagnose you as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Should this be the case, your doctor may recommend you see a specialist and would refer you should the symptoms you are experiencing be extremely severe.
There are situations that people find traumatic. These can vary from person to person. With this said, there are many life-threatening and/or harmful events that could result in you suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This includes the following:
- Having been involved in a car accident
- Having been violently attacked
- Having been sexually assaulted or raped
- Having been harassed, bullied or abused
- Having been kidnapped/held hostage
- Having seen other people being killed or hurt which could include during the course of carrying out your job
- Having a job that means you repeatedly witness distressing scenes or hearing explicit details of traumatic events
- Having experienced traumatic childbirth, whether you are the mother or partner who witnessed a traumatic birth
- Having witnessed extreme violence which includes military combat in war
- Having survived a terrorist attack
- Having survived a natural disaster which could include an earthquake or flooding
- Having been diagnosed as suffering from a life-threatening health condition
- Having lost someone you loved in very upsetting circumstances
- Having learnt that a traumatic event has affected someone you love which is sometimes referred to as “secondary trauma”
- Having experienced an event where you feared for your life
You may be supporting someone who experienced a traumatic event which results in you experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is known as experiencing “secondary trauma” or “secondary traumatic stress”.
It describes that although the original trauma occurred to someone else (primary trauma), the feelings you experience while supporting the person has a impact on your life too. This does not mean the effects that you feel are any less important, or that the symptoms you experience are any easier to deal with.
If during the course of your job, you have to hear about or witness aspects of a traumatic event, you may also experience “secondary trauma”. However, many professionals now believe that this should be considered as being an original (primary) trauma.
You may be diagnosed as suffering from mild, moderate or severe post-traumatic stress disorder which does not offer a description of how traumatic or frightening an experience you witnessed or incident you were involved in, may have impacted you but rather explains the symptoms you may be experiencing following the event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be defined differently in certain situations which are detailed as follows:
- Delayed-onset PTSD – you may only experience any symptoms much later on having either been involved in a traumatic event or been the witness to something traumatic. This is referred to as “delayed-onset PTSD”, or “delayed post-traumatic stress disorder
- Complex PTSD – should you have experienced some kind of trauma when you were young, or experienced trauma over a long period of time, this is referred to as “complex PTSD”
- Birth trauma – you may develop PTSD following a traumatic experience in childbirth
You may also experience certain symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder if you supported someone who has experienced a traumatic event which, as previously mentioned, is referred to as “secondary trauma”.
Below are some of the more common symptoms and signs that you or someone close to you, may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Constantly reliving the event and what happened which can include the following:
- Vivid flashbacks – a feeling that the traumatic event is happening
- Experiencing nightmares
- Having intrusive thoughts and/or seeing intrusive images
- Experiencing powerful distress whether triggered by real reminders or symbolic reminders of the traumatic event
- Experiencing physical pain, sweating, trembling and/or nausea
- Being on edge and constantly on the alert
These symptoms could lead to you experiencing the following:
- A sense of panic when reminded of the traumatic event
- Becoming easily angry or upset
- Experiencing extreme alertness which is often referred to as being “hypervigilant”
- Experiencing a disturbed sleep pattern or suffering from lack of sleep
- Being irritable and/or displaying aggressive behaviour
- A difficulty in concentrating even of everyday and/or simple tasks
- Being easily startled and/or jumpy
- Experiencing recklessness or self-destructive behaviour
- Experiencing other symptoms associated with anxiety
- A desire to avoid memories or feelings
The symptoms above could lead to you experiencing the following:
- A feeling that you have to be kept busy
- The desire to avoid anything and everything that could remind you of the trauma you experienced or witnessed
- An inability to recall any details of what happened
- A feeling of emotional numbness or being cut off from any feelings
- A feeling of being physically numb and/or detached from your body
- An inability to express any sort of affection
- The use of drugs or alcohol as a way of avoiding any memories of the event
- Having difficult beliefs and/or feelings
These symptoms can lead to you feeling the following:
- That you cannot trust anyone
- That there is nowhere that is safe
- That no one understands you
- That you blame yourself
- Having overwhelming feelings of sadness, guilt, anger and/or shame
- Lack of sleep which results in you never being at peace which you find exhausting
Studies suggest that when a person feels any sort of emotional stress, the body releases specific hormones which are known as cortisol and adrenaline. It is the body’s way of automatically preparing a response to any sort of potential threat. This automatic response is often referred to as a “fight, flight or freeze response”.
Research into post-traumatic stress disorder has established that if you suffer from PTSD, your body continues to produce both of these hormones even though the danger has passed. This is thought to be the explanation as to why you continue to experience certain symptoms like being easily startled or exhibiting extreme alertness.
A flashback describes when you relive certain aspects of the traumatic event you experienced. It is a vivid experience that results in you feeling that the traumatic event is happening “right now”. It can be likened to watching a video of the traumatic event although “flashbacks” may not necessarily mean that you see images or that you relieve the events from the start right through till the end. Experiencing flashbacks could include any of the following:
- Seeing partial or full images of what occurred during a traumatic event
- Noticing smells, tastes or sounds that can be linked to the trauma you experienced
- Feeling pain or pressure as well as other physical sensations
- Experiencing the same emotions as you felt during the traumatic event
It could be that specific places, situations or people trigger a flashback because they remind you of the trauma you experienced in some way or another. You could find that you experience flashbacks are random times and that they last a few seconds. However, a flashback you experience may last for several hours or days.
If you suffer the symptoms associated with PTSD, you could also find that you have trouble with coping with everyday things in your life and this could include the following:
- Taking care of yourself
- Keeping and holding down your job
- Maintaining relationships and/or friendships
- Making decisions and/or remembering things
- Sex drive
- Coping with changes in your life
- Enjoying leisure time
If you hold a driving licence, you may need to inform the DVLA that you have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because you may be deemed “unfit” to drive.
If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, you may also experience other mental health issues and this may include the following:
- Other types of anxiety disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Suicidal issues
Studies have shown that certain factors could result in you being more vulnerable to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or could make any issues you experience more severe and this includes the following:
- Having to experience repeated trauma
- Being physically hurt or feeling pain
- Getting no or very little support from family, friends or professionals
- Having to deal with extra stress when at the same time having to deal with money issues or bereavement
- Having experienced depression or anxiety in the past
If, at an early age you experienced some kind of trauma, or you experienced repetitive, long-lasting traumas, a medical professional may diagnose you as suffering from “complex PTSD”.
An traumatic event may happen to anyone, but you would be more at risk if you are involved in any of the following:
- You work in a high-risk occupation which includes the armed forces or emergency services
- You are an asylum seeker or refugee
- You were taken into foster care
Complex PTSD is sometimes referred to a c-PTSD or CPTSD. It is a condition that results in you experiencing certain symptoms associated with PTSD together with certain additional symptoms which could include the following:
- Trouble controlling your emotions
- A feeling of hostility and distrust towards the world
- Having constant feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
- Having the feeling that you are worthless or permanently damaged
- Having the feeling that you are completely different when compared to other people
- Having the feeling that no one could understand what happened to you
- The need to avoid relationships and friendships, or finding them very difficult to cope with
- Experiencing dissociative symptoms which includes derealisation or depersonalisation
- Experiencing regular suicidal tendencies
Because complex PTSD has only been recently recognised, some professionals now recognise that certain traumas can result in a person experiencing additional effects. However, there has been some disagreement as to whether this should be thought of as a “form of PTSD” or that it should be thought of as a “separate” condition and as such be called something different. Some therapists, specialists and doctors may use the following terms as a way to describe complex PTSD:
- EPCACE – enduring personality change after catastrophic experience
- DESNOS – disorders of extreme stress not otherwise specified (more commonly used in the United States than in the United Kingdom)
If you suffer from complex PTSD, you may experience what some refer to as “emotional flashbacks”. These involve intense feelings you felt in the original trauma you experienced which could include the following:
You could react to present day events as though they are causing you to experience these feelings without knowing that you are in fact, experiencing a flashback.
There are certain traumatic events that can lead to a person suffering from complex PTSD. These include the following:
- Childhood neglect, abandonment or abuse
- Ongoing domestic abuse or violence
- Repeatedly witnessing abuse or violence
- Being forced to be a sex worker
- Kidnapping, slavery or torture
- Being kept as a prisoner of war
You are put more at risk of developing complex PTSD if you experience any of the following:
- Trauma at an early age
- Trauma that lasted for a long period of time
- Where rescue or escape were impossible or unlikely
- Had to endure multiple traumas
- Were harmed by someone close
There are certain symptoms associated with complex PTSD that are similar to symptoms of BPD (borderline personality disorder). Not all doctors and other medical professionals are aware of complex PTSD and as such, a misdiagnosis can be made believing that an affected person may be suffering the symptoms of BPD. With this said, it is possible for a person to experience the symptoms of complex PTSD and BPD simultaneously. If you are concerned that your condition has been misdiagnosed, you should discuss these concerns with a mental health specialist who would tell you whether you are receiving the correct treatment.
The organisation that provides best practice guidelines in health care has not as yet produced recommendations for complex PTSD. As such, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), caution people and medical professionals that the existing PTSD guidelines were not developed for complex PTSD.
With this said, you could find that “standard” treatments for PTSD may help you if you have been diagnosed with complex PTSD, but those suffering from this complex form of the condition, are known to require more intensive, long-term support in order to help their recovery. It is also worth noting that any treatment you may be offered would depend on what type of therapy is available in your area.
If you suffer from PTSD, it can have an overwhelming impact on your daily life, but there are specific things that you can do to help yourself and this includes doing the following:
- Familiarise yourself with the triggers that most affect you
- Talk to someone
- Give yourself time
- Seek peer support
- Seek specialist support
- Take care of your physical self
Experiencing flashbacks can be extremely distressing. There are certain things you can do which might help and this includes doing the following:
- When frightened, you may stop breathing normally which can increase your feelings of panic and fear. As such, you should place your focus on breathing normally which you can do by slowly breathing in and out while at the same time counting to five
- Some people find that it helps if they carry around something that reminds them of the present. Touching a familiar objects when you are experiencing a flashback can help and it could be an item you carry in your pocket, a bag. It could even be something that you always have with you whether it is a keyring or item of jewellery
- Tell yourself that you are not in any danger and that you are safe. You may find that it is helpful if you tell yourself that the traumatic event is over and that you are now safe which can be hard to do when you are experiencing a flashback. As such, you may find it helpful to write down useful phrases when you are feeling better and relying on these phrases when you have a flashback
- Offer yourself all the comfort you need. This could be curling up in a blanket, cuddling a much loved pet, watching a favourite movie or listening to some soothing music
- Keep a diary of what occurs when you have a flashback which could help you identify any triggers. Keeping a record could also help you identify any early signs that you are about to experience a flashback
- Try “grounding techniques” which can help keep you connected to the “present”. They can also help you cope when experiencing a flashback or any intrusive thoughts. You may find that describing your surroundings out loud or counting objects of a specific colour or type may help
By familiarising yourself to things that may trigger flashbacks and any other unnerving symptoms that you experience, can help you prepare yourself for what is about to happen. These triggers may include the following:
- Certain smells and sounds
- Specific words
- Certain types of films and/or books
Many specialists and therapists which includes NICE recommend that people who suffered a trauma should undergo “talking treatments” of which there are two which are described below:
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) – a treatment that has been specially put together to help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) – a new therapy/treatment for people who have developed PTSD
If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and need help and support, the links below take you to organisations and charities where people who understand what you are going through are ready to provide all the help and support you need to get you through the difficult times you may be experiencing: