Knowing the facts is a necessary start.

My sister is one of those people who dismiss things that they can’t see or which don’t have any physical symptoms. For years I have been trying to explain to her that traumas can sometimes have repercussions which last years. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of them.

What is PTSD?

When we experience something scary, dangerous or shocking, the fear we feel triggers numerous changes in the body to help us cope with the situation at hand. In layman’s terms, fear activates the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism.

These situations can be literally anything – no event is too big or too small. The strength of the reaction depends on us and our internalisation of the facts. So much so that our body does the same thing when we lose someone dear to us, by taking us to the first stage of grieving: denial. That denial helps us deal with the pain and loss in a more manageable away. Most people recover from all this within a few days or weeks, but when the symptoms persist for over a month, then you probably have PTSD.

In America, it is estimated that 8% of the population has PTSD at any given time. That’s equivalent to the population of Texas! The question is, however, are you suffering from it too?

What are the symptoms?

Various combinations of these:

Re-experiencing the situation through flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts.

Avoiding the situation by staying away from places, objects, people or events that remind you of the situation; or by boxing in your feelings and thoughts about what happened.

Reacting to the situation, even if the situation is not present, by being easily startled, feeling on edge, not being able to sleep or having angry outbursts without being triggered.

Changes in mood and cognition, which can mean anything from having trouble remembering key features of the event or negative thoughts about the world, to feelings of guilt or loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

As a rule of thumb, in order for someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, the person must have at least one symptom from each of the first two categories (Re-Experience and Avoidance) and two from each of the second group of categories (Reaction and Changes in Mood) for one to three months.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD can result from childhood events, seeing a person dying, getting physically injured, going to war, feeling extreme fear, or even not having the necessary support after an event. Most importantly, however, children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma. It’s crucial to remember that in children younger than six, the symptoms can be different from those experienced by an adult (they wet their bed even though they know how to use the toilet, they re-enact the situation while playing, they are overly-clingy, and/or they can even forget how to talk).

Is there a cure?

Depending on each patient’s situation, PTSD is reduced by medication or psychotherapy – or even a combination of both. Due to the nature of the mental condition, people who believe they may suffer from PTSD should always seek help. Left untreated, PTSD can be chronic or even delayed, affecting you and your loved ones well into the future.

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