7 Things People With PTSD Want You To Know

One in 10 people suffer with it throughout their lifetime.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often portrayed in films as the mental illness plaguing soldiers who have witnessed unspeakable things in combat. And while this demographic is affected – so are many other people, too.

PTSD is thought to impact one in 10 people throughout their lifetime and is triggered by particularly distressing life events. Kris Ambler, 42, witnessed a fatal car crash four years ago and it’s stayed with him ever since.

“I was the first person on the scene and helped people get off the bus, which a car had hit head on,” Ambler, who now works for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), tells HuffPost UK. “It was in the local paper at the time, the young couple in the car died on impact but I went to check to see if they had survived.

“It wasn’t a sight I was prepared for and it stayed with me.”

With awareness of PTSD still low among those who do not live with it, we asked people with the mental illness what they want others to know.

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It’s not something that only affects shellshocked soldiers.

Tom Walters, 35, from Brighton says: “In reality, PTSD can arrive as a result of something that is far less explosive.” In his case, it was the death of his brother at 25.

Walters was studying at university at the time and his brother had been ill for a couple of weeks, but he thought nothing of it. “I then got a phone call from my dad which changed everything,” he says. “He told me my brother wouldn’t be with us much longer. He died a few months later. I still panic every time the phone rings. I’m convinced something equally devastating is about to happen.”

PTSD can be triggered by all kinds of traumatic events, anything from childbirth to a severe illness, prolonged sexual or physical abuse or witnessing a natural disaster or acts of war.

There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding it.

“I do feel like there are people who have thought that I’m odd, weird, crazy,” says Hannah Rainey, 23, from Tunbridge Wells. She was diagnosed with CPTSD – complex post-traumatic stress disorder – in 2016. CPTSD is where people experience additional symptoms alongside typical PTSD symptoms.

“I just want people to know that all this is is my brain’s response to something terrible that has happened,” says Rainey. “If people had been through trauma that caused a CPTSD response, I think they’d have a very different reaction or opinion. When you actually look at trauma and how it can impact you, CPTSD responses are actually very understandable.”

No two experiences of PTSD are the same.

Since the day of his brother’s death, Walters has variously experienced mild to severe panic attacks, intense anxiety, feelings of impending doom, flashbacks and a sense of being out of control. “Not in an excited sense,” he explains, “more that you aren’t in control of your life anymore. Whatever happens, something absolutely horrific will be around the corner. That means taking no enjoyment out of anything in fear that it will be taken away.”

Some common symptoms of PTSD include reliving aspects of what happened, feeling alert or on edge, avoiding feelings or memories, and having difficult beliefs or feelings, for example that you can’t trust anyone. These will manifest in different ways depending on what has triggered a person’s PTSD.

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Symptoms don’t always show immediately.

Sue Harbottle-Sear, 60, from East Hoathly, East Sussex, developed severe PTSD more than a year after completing treatment for breast cancer, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

She says during her treatment, and in the aftermath, nobody talked about the possibility she might get PTSD, so she initially put some of its symptoms – hot flushes, disrupted sleep, mood swings – down to her lengthy physical recovery. But she soon realised something wasn’t right and, after seeing a therapist, was diagnosed with the mental illness.

Triggers aren’t always logical.

Toni White, 33, from Exeter acknowledges that. “But just because triggers don’t make sense to those who don’t suffer, it doesn’t take the legitimate panic or fear away from those of us who do,” she says.

Rather than dismissively applying logic to her feelings, she urges loved ones to stick by sufferers and show compassion. “Gently remind us that we’re safe and let us talk about our panic even if it doesn’t make sense or if our reactions seem disproportionate to the situation,” she adds.

You don’t have to suffer in silence.

Yes, PTSD can be scary and isolating, but it doesn’t have to be experienced in isolation and silence, says Ambler. His breakthrough moment in recovery came when he eventually plucked up the courage to speak to his GP.

“I’d want others dealing with PTSD to know that talking about it with someone you trust is the first step, and a big one,” he says.

Recovery is possible.

Despite witnessing the aftermath of that horrendous car accident, Ambler says he is now in a better place mentally. That’s not to say the journey to recovery was easy – after the ordeal he suffered flashbacks, sleepless nights, mood swings and anxiety about driving.

“I was a mess, so I sought counselling and after six sessions or so I found something like resolution,” he says. “I’m okay with it now. I’ve spoken about it at road safety courses just to emphasise the impact speeding can have on peoples’ lives.”

He advises people who are struggling to try counselling, either through their local IAPT service or through an association like the BACP.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.