Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder triggered by particularly distressing life events. It’s estimated one in ten people will develop it in their lifetime, according to PTSD UK.
The anxiety disorder can be triggered by serious road accidents, prolonged sexual or physical abuse, military combat, traumatic childbirth and being caught up in natural disasters.
Sufferers will often relive a traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks. They may also feel isolated, irritable or guilty.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is an anxiety disorder which occurs in response to a traumatic event.
It affects one in five firefighters, one in three teenagers who have survived a horrific car crash, 70% of rape victims, two in three Prisoners of War, 40% of people who experienced a sudden death of a loved one, and an estimated 10,000 women a year following a traumatic childbirth, according to PTSD UK.
In people who experience these events, it is common to experience upsetting, distressing or confusing feelings afterwards, mental health charity Mind explains on its website. People may feel constantly distressed and may even develop emotional and physical reactions, such as feeling easily upset or not being able to sleep.
For most people, these feelings and issues will eventually subside. But in some, they will continue on, in which case you may be diagnosed with PTSD.
A recent report by NHS Digital found that, among women, the likelihood of screening positive for PTSD was high among 16 to 24 year olds (13%) and then declined with age. “Although the data doesn’t allow us to draw any strong conclusions as to why this might be, the report’s findings that young women are also more likely to experience higher rates of common mental health problems, self-harm and bipolar disorder suggest they are facing increasing pressures in life and are at higher risk” Lucy Lyus, information manager for Mind, told HuffPost UK.
The most common symptom of PTSD is ‘re-experiencing’, where a person vividly re-lives a traumatic event. This may be through flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive images or physical sensations like pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.
These feelings may even lead to people questioning whether they could have prevented the event, or even why it happened to them, leading to feelings of guilt or shame.
People with PTSD may also try to avoid being reminded of the event by deliberately steering clear of certain people or places. According to the NHS, these people will try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.
Others attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all, which is known as ‘emotional numbing’.
Hyperarousal, or feeling ‘on edge’, is another issue linked to PTSD which results in people struggling to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats, easily startled and prone to irritability, angry outbursts, sleeping problems and difficulty concentrating.
They may also suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias, headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches.
It is also not uncommon for people with PTSD to self-harm, take drugs or drink.
This article was originally published in October 2016, but has since been updated.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org