There is still much stigma surrounding mental health. This is highlighted to me on a regular basis in my work at an NHS mental health trust in north London.
I work as a clinical psychologist within a small team which supports people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder which can develop after being involved in, or witnessing, a traumatic, stressful or frightening event including terrorist attacks, military combat, sexual assault or robbery. Someone with PTSD often relives the event through nightmares and flashbacks and they may also experience feelings of isolation and find it hard to sleep and concentrate.
Suffering with PTSD makes people feel on edge, and gives them nightmares. They will struggle to sleep and to think about anything else.
Although it is normal to experience these symptoms after a traumatic event, in someone suffering from PTSD the symptoms will persist for longer than three months or the effects of PTSD will have a significant impact on the their day-to-day life.
I work within the Enfield Complex Care Team at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust. We are a small team of three and currently have 168 PTSD patients. Many tell us that they were reluctant to get treatment for fear of being stigmatised. They worry what their friends, family and colleagues will think of them. We hear time and time again the misconceptions surrounding PTSD - for example, people may wrongly assume that people can just forget about the traumatic event, get over it and move on. But having PTSD isn't a choice.
Although many people experience a traumatic event and recover well, it is estimated that 4.4% of the UK population suffers with PTSD. There are particular kinds of events that increase the likelihood of PTSD. There have been a number of terrorist attacks in the UK this year and between 33 to 39% of those involved will suffer from the disorder.
These figures are high. That's why having just celebrated World Mental Health Day (10 October) my team and I would like to raise awareness of this condition. PTSD is debilitating and people shouldn't have to cope alone or be worried about what people will think of them.
If you know someone that has been through any kind of traumatic event and they seem withdrawn, isolated or are having difficulties sleeping, please encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Let them know a bit about PTSD and try and persuade them to do the activities they love. Persuade them to go out and work or to connect with the community. It can make it more difficult to recover if someone remains isolated.
Ask them to talk to family and friends and to take part in activities that make them feel good. These things can help symptoms to improve. Like I said, it's completely normal to experience symptoms for a short while after a traumatic event - such as nightmares and flashbacks - but if someone has these symptoms for longer than three months, or if the symptoms have a significant impact on their day-to-day life, then they should seek support from their GP.
In our service we offer a phased treatment option which includes group sessions, one-to-one therapy and reintegration into the community. If you live in north London and would like to learn more about this service please visit our website here. For anyone else, the organisation Mind has some great information about PTSD on their website.
Let's talk about PTSD and help to breakdown the stigma that surrounds mental health.
By Dr Jennifer Hall