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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by very stressful, disturbing or frightening events, such as being involved in a car crash. 

PTSD is categorised as an anxiety disorder and people often recall the traumatic incident through nightmares and flashbacks. 

PTSD can significantly affect a person's day-to-day life making it very difficult to cope. It is estimated that PTSD effects 1 in every 3 people who have experienced a traumatic event.

The causes of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Being assaulted or sexually assaulted

  • Persistent physical, sexual or emotional abuse

  • Military combat or terrorist attacks

  • A traumatic birth

  • Being kidnapped or held at hostage

  • Being raped, mugged or robbed

  • Witnessing someone being seriously hurt or killed

  • Losing a relative or a close friend

  • Being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition

  • Being involved in a serious road traffic accident

  • Being involved in a natural disaster


Signs and symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Re-experiencing is the most common symptom of PTSD. This is where the individual involuntarily relives the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing images or sensations and physical sensations, such as pain and feeling sick.

  • Avoidance where the person constantly tries to avoid being reminded of the event. This usually results in avoiding certain people or evading places that remind them of the trauma. This can lead to the person isolating themselves from society and giving up activities they used to enjoy. 

  • Emotional numbing involves blocking out the traumatic memories completely.

  • Hyperarousal is feeling very anxious and constantly alert to potential threats. This may also be described as feeling 'on edge' and often leads to irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulties sleeping and problems concentrating. 

  • Drug or alcohol misuse

  • Self-harming

  • Aggressive behaviour

  • Headaches or dizziness

  • Chest pain and stomach ache

  • Feelings or hopelessness

Treatments available for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Watchful waiting for mild symptoms of PTSD (or if the person has been experiencing symptoms for less than 4-weeks.) This involves monitoring symptoms to see if they improve of get worse. A follow-up appointment with take place within 1-month of the initial appointment. 

  • Trauma Based Cognitive behavioural therapy uses a range of psychological techniques to help the person come to terms with the traumatic experience. The therapist may ask them to confront their traumatic memories by thinking about the experience in detail. The therapist will try to help them gain control of their fear by changing the negative way they think about the experience. Trauma based CBT usually consists of 8-12 weekly one-to-one sessions. 

  • Antidepressants such as paroxetine or sertraline can help treat symptoms of PTSD. Medication will often be provided in conjunction with talking therapies. 

  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment designed to reduce undesirable thoughts and feelings associated with traumatic memories or events. The treatment involves the person making side-to-side eye movements, usually by following the motion of the therapist's finger, while recalling the traumatic incident. Other methods may include the therapist tapping their finger or playing a tone. 

  • Group therapy can be an effective method to treat the symptoms of PTSD. People often find it helpful to speak about their experience with others who are in a similar position. It can also bring benefits by listening to positive stories of recovery. 

Aiding another with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 

  • Keep them safe and give them plenty of time to talk at their own pace. It is important not to pressure them. 

  • Do not dismiss their experiences by saying "it could have been worse" or questioning why they didn't say or do something differently. 

  • Don't make assumptions - accept what they say without judging them and show your understanding. Try not to appear shocked or startled by what they tell you. 

  • If this is the first time they have spoken about their problem, assist them to seek initial professional support.

  • For the interim, you can help them access information and resources relating to their signs and symptoms.

  • If they have already been given a diagnosis, encourage them to revisit their GP or other assigned professional for additional support such as a peer support group.

  • People diagnosed with PTSD are often aware of their 'triggers'. Ask them what will make things easier to cope and manager their symptoms.


70% of adults experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. 20% of those people will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

70% of people living with PTSD in the UK do not receive professional help.  

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