February 8, 2024

Trauma/PTSD and how we can help

What is trauma/PTSD?

Trauma describes the psychological effects caused by a distressing or frightening event or series of events. It can develop immediately after experiencing the event, or months or even years later. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur in the aftermath of trauma, however, trauma can also result in conditions such as depression and anxiety or other mental health difficulties.

Examples of the types of events which could cause traumatic reactions include: accidents involving injury, bereavement, medical emergencies, violence, natural disasters, war, prolonged bullying, neglect and abuse. Trauma can be caused by experiencing an event directly or indirectly, for example by witnessing something traumatic happening to someone else. Trauma and PTSD can have a significant impact on daily functioning and well-being and can lead to feelings of isolation, irritability, and guilt. Fortunately, whilst the symptoms can be severe and debilitating, there are a number of evidence-based treatments available.

Actions that can help

  1. Whilst it is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts and experiences following a traumatic event, you should visit your GP if these symptoms are still present more than four weeks after the event.
  2. Learn some specific techniques to manage flashbacks such as: focusing on your breathing, carrying an object that brings you to the present moment, telling yourself you’re safe, comforting yourself, keeping a diary, and learning grounding techniques. For more information see Mind
  3. You may find it helpful to join a self-help or support group. There are many resources that can be shared that will help you manage your PTSD. For examples of where to find these groups please see: Combat Stress, Rape Crisis, Victim Support, and CRUSE.
  4. Whilst undergoing treatment for PTSD, ensure to provide yourself with plenty of self-care. Recovery can be difficult and tiring so it’s important to look after all aspects of your physical and mental health during this time.
  5. Learn to identify your triggers and share these with those around you. This can help both yourself and others to better manage your anxiety.

Symptoms

As mentioned, trauma can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety, but symptoms can most commonly be identified as examples of PTSD. For most people the symptoms of PTSD will develop within the first month after a traumatic event. These symptoms are usually experienced as either constant and severe, or periods where symptoms are better and worse. Whilst the specific symptoms can vary between individuals, symptoms of PTSD usually fall into the following categories:

  • Re-experiencing- where a person involuntarily relives the trauma as a flashback, through nightmares, repetitive and distressing images or as a physical sensation (e.g. pain, sweating, trembling etc.). The individual may also experience negative thoughts or questions about the event which can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame.
  • Avoidance and emotional numbing- avoidance of reminders of the trauma (e.g. avoiding a person or place who reminds you of the event). Emotional numbing is where an individual may try to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This can lead to isolation and withdrawal from others or activities which previously may have been enjoyed.
  • Hyperarousal- is where an individual may feel easily startled, highly anxious, and constantly aware of potential threats and therefore may find it difficult to relax. Hyperarousal in turn can lead to irritability, feelings of anger, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
  • Other difficulties- include other mental health difficulties such as low mood or motivation, anxiety, phobias, drug or alcohol misuse, self-harming, or destructive behaviour. Physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches can also be experienced.

Treatment

The recommended treatments for symptoms of trauma are psychological therapies and medication. However, if you have been experiencing the symptoms for less than four weeks a doctor will normally take a watchful waiting approach before proceeding with treatment. This is because two out of three people experiencing symptoms after trauma will get better without intervention. For those whose symptoms persist, acknowledging your difficulties and receiving help from a professional is often the most effective way to treat trauma/PTSD.

The most evidence-based and effective psychological therapies used to treat trauma/PTSD are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). Using CBT to treat trauma/PTSD aims to help you manage your symptoms by changing how you think about the trauma and how you act as a result of it. Similarly, EMDR aims to treat trauma/PTSD by adjusting the way you appraise the trauma and involves re-processing the traumatic memory using a specific form of eye movements. Both of these therapies are undertaken with specially trained therapists and psychologists who will carefully guide the traumatised person through the process and treatment.

Certain medication may be used alone, or in conjunction with psychological therapy to improve difficulties as a result of trauma/PTSD symptoms.

How to get help

In order to access treatment or support for trauma symptoms, you could start by talking to your GP as they will be able to refer you to a specialist for further assessment. Typically, 70% of people who experience trauma never seek help for their symptoms. Whilst It can be difficult to start the conversation, it is important to try not to let avoidance or shame get in the way of getting the help you may need.

Experiencing PTSD or other related symptoms is not uncommon in those who experience trauma or a life-threatening event, and by starting a conversation with a friend, family member or healthcare professional, you will be taking the first step towards recovery and improving your well-being.

Trauma/PTSD - Five facts

  1. Following a traumatic event, most people will experience a short-term stress reaction, which usually resolves itself without the need for professional help. Every two in three people who continue to experience difficulties after a traumatic event will get better without treatment within a few weeks.
  2. People experiencing PTSD often find themselves reliving the traumatic event through nightmares or flashbacks.
  3. PTSD can be caused by having experienced a traumatic event; witnessed a traumatic event in person; learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by a traumatic event; or if you are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (e.g. first responders).
  4. Examples of traumatic events which could lead to experiences of PTSD include: accidents involving injury, bereavement, medical emergencies, violence, natural disasters, war, prolonged bullying or neglect and abuse.
  5. Psychological therapy has been shown to be effective for those experiencing PTSD.

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