Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the name given to the mental and physical problems that can sometimes follow threatening or distressing events. The events could be an actual physical threat or feelings of intense fear, hopelessness or horror.
The trauma could be caused by a major disaster, war, rape, abuse (sexual, physical or emotional), witnessing a violent death, or a severe accident, traumatic childbirth, or any situation in which a person was terrified, horrified, helpless, or felt that his or her life was in danger.
The trauma can be a single event or a series of events taking place over many months or even years.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a normal response to these types of incidents and is quite common. It may affect the person directly involved in a traumatic event or situation. It may also develop in the families of those involved in a traumatic event. PTSD could develop in people of all ages, including children. Some people start to use recreational drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, especially if they have had PTSD or experienced trauma for a long time.
What treatments are available for PTSD?
Psychological treatment is available, and medication could also be helpful for adults. Many people with PTSD have had the symptoms for many months and sometimes years, but treatment can still be beneficial.
It would be best if you were offered treatment regardless of when the traumatic event took place. If you have developed symptoms recently, you may get better with little or no treatment.
- Psychological treatment
Depending on what your symptoms are and when you developed PTSD, you may be offered psychological therapies that are specific to people with PTSD. These are trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT is a psychological treatment for PTSD. It focuses on a person’s distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviour and helps to bring about a positive change. In trauma-focused CBT, the treatment concentrates specifically on the memories, thoughts and feelings that a person has about the traumatic event. You will be assisted in coping with any emotional distress and behavioural problems that may arise during treatment.
What if I do not feel better after psychological treatment?
Psychological treatments designed for people with PTSD have shown to be effective in helping most people feel better. The effectiveness of the treatment depends on when the traumatic event occurred, when you developed symptoms, or how you are feeling at the moment.
If you do not feel better after your specific treatment, the healthcare professional may suggest a different psychological treatment or a course of medication in combination with the therapy.
Medication may help to treat people with PTSD. Still, for most, it is not as helpful as trauma-focused psychological treatment.
Healthcare professionals usually offer psychological treatment before medication, but you may also be given medication in the following instances:
- You prefer not to have psychological treatment, or it would be challenging for you to start (it may not be available in your area).
- Beta-blockers (a type of medication that relaxes blood vessels) may be offered early after the incident as it may prevent future complications.
- Psychological treatment had no impact because of the threat of further trauma, such as domestic violence.
- If psychological treatment does not have an effect, or you suffer from depression, medication may be combined with your treatment.
How long should I take the medication?
If the medication is effective, you are encouraged to continue with the treatment for at least 12 months.
Will other illnesses affect my PTSD treatment?
- If you have PTSD and also suffer from depression, you should be provided with treatment for both. Usually, the PTSD will be treated first. Depression symptoms often improve as a result of PTSD treatment. However, if you have severe depression, the depression will usually be treated first. If your physician thinks that you may be at risk of harming yourself or others, this problem should be addressed first.
- If you take recreational drugs or alcohol, this may affect your treatment for PTSD. Healthcare professionals should, therefore, treat any drug or alcohol problem first.
- If you had lost a loved one due to an unnatural or sudden death, your emotions may be overwhelming, and you may have what is known as ‘traumatic grief’. Your General Practitioner (GP) should refer you to mental healthcare professionals who have training and experience in this field to confirm whether this is indeed the correct diagnosis.
How can I support a loved one with PTSD?
You have an important role in providing practical and emotional support to someone with PTSD. If appropriate, and the person with PTSD consents, healthcare professionals should give you full information about common reactions to traumatic events, including the symptoms of PTSD, its course and treatment.
Where can I find help and treatment for PTSD?
If you have experienced trauma and have distressing symptoms, your GP is the best person to see immediately. In the first four weeks after a traumatic event, your GP may inform you that it’s common to feel like this and not to be alarmed. You may not be offered any treatment at this stage, but you may be offered another appointment within one month.
If you do not have a further appointment, you should consult your GP again if you do not feel better. If your symptoms are severe, your GP should refer you to a mental healthcare professional straight away. Psychologists, psychiatrists or counsellors are trained in providing treatment for PTSD.
Ideally, you should receive all your treatment from one Mental Healthcare Professional. All healthcare professionals should treat you with respect, sensitivity and understanding, and explain PTSD and its treatment to you clearly.