To mark the 10 year anniversary of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks, HuffPost UK is running Beyond The Bombings, a special series of interviews, blogs, in-depth features and exclusive research reflecting on how Britain has changed since.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder which affects a minority of people who are exposed to traumatic events such as 7/7. Whilst large scale terrorist incidents are thankfully rare, around 2/3 of people will experience one such an event throughout their lifetime. Of course people working in trauma-exposed roles (e.g. the emergency services, military, train drivers, journalists etc) are likely to have to deal with traumatic events repeatedly throughout the course of their careers. It's worth pointing out that the majority of people exposed to traumatic events experience some short-term distress which resolves without the need for professional intervention although unfortunately the small proportion who do develop the disorder are unlikely to seek help. Instead most battle on despite their symptoms and their quality of life is likely to be substantially reduced; evidence suggests that around 70% of people who suffer with PTSD in the UK do not receive any professional help at all. The disorder also impacts upon loved ones, work colleagues and more widely too. People who suffer with mental health problems, including but not limited to PTSD, are likely to perform poorly at work which for people in safety critical roles (e.g. train drivers) can lead to disastrous consequences for large number of people.
Whilst the London Bombings occurred 10 years ago this month, one only has to look at the cascade of news reports of traumatic events in the UK, and further afield, which affect people from all nations. For those who are affected by PTSD, or indeed by other mental health disorders related to traumatic exposure such as clinical depression, specific phobia or substance misuse, life after traumatic events can be very challenging. The symptoms of PTSD include recurrent distressing thoughts or nightmares related to the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, negative changes in the way people thing and feel, disturbances in sleep and concentration and a propensity to be irritable, jumpy and on edge. Many of these symptoms are common in the days and weeks after a traumatic event; however people who suffer with PTSD experience them on an on-going basis and the severity of the symptoms is such that they substantially impair quality of life. For more information on PTSD see the helpful Royal College of Psychiatrists information sheet.
Contrary to the usual portrayal of PTSD by the media, in many cases it is a treatable condition. There are a number of well-proven, in the main, psychological treatments for PTSD which can often be effective; information about evidence based treatments has been compiled by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence although this document is now 10 years old and should hopefully be updated in the not too distant future. After the London Bombings, a screen and treat programme was able to provide evidence based care for 217 people who in the main had good outcomes one year after completing treatment.
In some cases, often where people have been subjected to particularly severe or prolonged trauma, the disorder is more complex and a full recovery may take a lot longer. The symptoms of 'complex PTSD' include all those of PTSD but also significant difficulties with regulating mood, a significantly negative self-view and problems with social interaction. People who have complex PTSD may also misuse alcohol, or other substances, and suffer with other mental health conditions such as depression. Currently whilst there are some complex trauma services in the NHS, access to them is patchy; more information about trauma services can be found on the UK Psychological Trauma Society website.
In summary then, most people exposed to trauma remain resilient. A minority will however develop mental health problems such as PTSD. In the main this is a treatable condition but problematically most sufferers do not seek any help. The good news is that treatment can be effective even if help-seeking is delayed and over the last ten years our understanding of how best to deliver therapeutic input has improved considerably. For instance, there is now good evidence that remotely delivered therapy (e.g. Skype, telephone etc) can be just as effective as when it is delivered face to face. Importantly, whilst the NHS may not always be able to offer rapid access to the correct treatment services, discussing any trauma-related concerns with your GP is a really good first step.