While most of us manage to move on and away from the ‘bad things’ that happen to us, those with PTSD keep reliving the trauma, causing them intense mental strain and harm
WHAT IS PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, abbreviated to PTSD, is essentially a mental health disorder that is caused by an incident that has caused a person significant emotional trauma even in the absence of physical injury.
The traumatic event can be an accident involving the person or someone very dear to the person. The sudden demise of a loved or even merely learning about someone else’s pain in inconvenient situations (kidnapping, domestic violence, terror attacks, etc) can also lead to PTSD. Sexual and physical abuse can also cause sufficient psychological damage to the victim, such that even several years after the abuse has ceased, they continue to feel sudden surges of fear and anguish when faced with certain triggers.
IMPACT OF TRAUMATIC EPISODES
An episode of PTSD can be triggered off by reminders of the traumatic event in the form of memory flashes, passing by the scene of the event or being in a stressful situation that might remotely resemble the trauma of the past. While most of us manage to move on and away from the ‘sad things’ that happen to us, those with PTSD keep reliving the trauma, causing them intense mental strain and harm. It is natural to feel sad or fearful for a few days or even weeks after a traumatic episode. Eventually, one learns to cope with what happened and the memories fade away. However, for those with PTSD these memories remain clear and vivid and tend to have a crippling effect when they come tumbling into the person’s mind.
There are seventeen symptoms of PTSD that can help diagnose someone with the condition:
ABNORMAL HEARTBEAT PATTERNS.
A fast heart rate is more than 100 beats per minute (in adults) and is called tachycardia. A slow heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute and is called bradycardia. An irregular heartbeat is commonly called a flutter or fibrillation.
- VIVID FLASHBACKS – A main symptom of PTSD is having a vivid flashback of the trauma. A person with PTSD relives the traumatic episode in his head over and over again, feeling the exact same pain and fear as felt during the actual event.
- NIGHT TERRORS – Having frequent nightmares about the traumatic episode is another common symptom of PTSD. The dreams can be a replay of the exact event or something even worse.
- DEPRESSION – PTSD affects a person’s normal life by interfering with their functioning and constantly reminding them of their traumatic experience. The pain and suffering results in the person often going into depression for even years together.
- ISOLATION – Haunted by their vivid memories and terror-filled nightmares, often those with PTSD turn introverts. Their isolation does not give them solace but those with PTSD prefer to stay alone as a way of protecting themselves from triggers.
- AVOIDING PEOPLE AND PLACES – Since something as remote as a scent or perfume can function as a trigger, those with PTSD tend to start avoiding places and people who have some faint semblance to the traumatic episode.
- MEMORY BLOCK – While on the one hand those with PTSD have vivid recollection of what happened, and tend to relive it repeatedly, there are those who block out chunks of their memory surrounding the trauma. Some even block out the whole episode which could have even lasted for days together. This is a kind of coping mechanism.
- EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT – Another symptom of PTSD is the person feeling emotionally detached from one’s surroundings. These could be episodic or continuous. The person loses sense of one’s relation to the people around him/her – probably as a way to steer clear of triggers.
- HYPERVIGILANCE – Some people with PTSD are always on the alert, paying too much attention to physical cues and assessing the possibility of danger at any given time. They tend to be easily startled at the slightest unexpected sensory input and panic.
- SELF-HARM – Hurting oneself is a definitive symptom of a mental disorder. Those with PTSD also tend to display self-destructive behaviour, sometimes as a means to override the stress of the trauma.
- BLAMING ONESELF – In many cases of PTSD the person tends to blame oneself for the traumatic episode – the guilt and regret, taking an all-consuming effect on them.
- NEGATIVE THOUGHTS – Be it from the constant reminder of the traumatic episode or from feeling depressed by the memories or from the self-blame, people with PTSD tend to have an extremely negative and bleak outlook on life. Stuck in the past, they feel utterly hopeless about their future.
- EPISODES OF SHOCK OR TREMORS – While memories and nightmare make those with PTSD mentally fatigued, they also display physical reactions to triggers. From freezing to shanking uncontrollably to having a full-blown panic attack, PTSD can bring on a number of debilitating physical reactions.
- ANGER & IRRITABILITY – PTSD causes a state of hyperarousal, which means the brain is on ‘fight or flight’ mode. For seemingly indiscernible triggers they might lash out at others and be inexplicably irritable.
- INSOMNIA – Since those with PTSD are hypervigilant, they often cannot let their guard down long enough to get a good night’s rest. The fear of their nightmares can also cause them to choose to stay awake.
- DISINTEREST IN HOBBIES – Activities that they were once passionate about and hobbies that could once elevate their mood, hold no interest to them at all. Mood changes, insomnia, and depressive thoughts because of PTSD leave the individual completely disinterested in any other pursuits.
- PICKING UP ‘BAD HABITS’ – In a bid to avoid remembering the trauma, those with PTSD often turn to alcoholism, drug abuse, high adrenaline activities with a disregard for safety and gambling.
- DIFFICULTY CONCENTRATION – As a by-product of insomnia, pessimistic thoughts, stress, anxiety and mental fatigue, people with PTSD have problems concentrating or focusing on what they are doing. Even normal day-to-day activities become nearly impossible to do.
A person is diagnosed with PTSD based on the number of symptoms they display, the intensity and the duration for which they have had those specific symptoms. Treatment varies from person to person. It is a combination of psychological therapy and medication.
Group therapies, which bring the person into contact with others struggling with PTSD, are just as helpful as one-on-one sessions with a therapist. Learning mind-calming exercises can also help the person tide over particularly difficult triggers. PTSD can affect people of all ages, and the only way to help the person overcome their fears and live a normal life is through timely treatment.