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What You Don’t Know About PTSD

Two doctors looking at brain scans

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has had a complex relationship with the medical world. It was, in WW1, considered to be a result of physical damage to the nerves caused by shells on the battle field.

The term ‘PTSD’ was not coined until 1980, in the third edition of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

PTSD is now considered an anxiety disorder, with its many symptoms overlapping greatly with OCD (also an anxiety disorder), depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

Nowadays, PTSD is sort-of an internet joke – with a lot of members of the alt-right making “triggered” jokes wherever possible – but it is in reality an issue suffered by 8% of the population (and that is likely purely diagnostic rates – many suffer in silence) which both deserves and requires serious consideration in today’s society as mental health research is progressing.

I have used current research and NHS resources to compile a short list of things you may not know about PTSD.

1. The symptoms of PTSD are put into three broad main categories  – re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal.

A) Re-experiencing is when one involuntarily re-lives their trauma, and this can be through nightmares, flashbacks, detailed images, or sensations related to the trauma.

B) Avoidance (or numbing) is where the sufferer will go to great lengths to avoid reminders of the trauma including places, people, smells, etc.

C) Hyperarousal is a feeling of constant anxiety and irritability. You may lash out over small things or feel anxious and have a high heart rate in otherwise harmless situations.

Obviously a lot of these symptoms overlap with other mental disorders – but re-experiencing is the largest factor in diagnosis of PTSD rather than other mental disorders.

2. PTSD – Not Just for Veterans

The focus of discussion and research on PTSD has often been on war veterans (commonly American troops from the Vietnam War in the 20th century). And of course, it is incredibly likely for a person in a war zone to experience PTSD, but there are various types of trauma which can give rise to PTSD.

Traumas can range from physical or sexual abuse to long term stress, and the likelihood of suffering from PTSD increases with the number of traumas faced.

There is a small branch of PTSD related to repeated or prolonged traumatic experiences called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s symptoms are the same as PTSD but may include such things as self harm, suicidal thoughts and feelings of shame or guilt.

It is common for people with mental illnesses to feel as if they have it good, or their trauma has not been “large enough” to contribute to PTSD.

But everybody has a different level of trauma that can affect them, due to both environmental and genetic factors, so you should never feel that your experiences are too trivial to require medical attention.

No matter what type or number of traumas you have experienced, it is advised to talk to someone about your experience to try and aid the recovery process.

3. Treatments are varied and can be highly personal

Treatments of mental illness are already complex and highly varied, but as PTSD overlaps with many different illnesses, its treatment are even more so.

Mainstream therapies include psychotherapy, medication and encouragement of daily routine and support.

Curetogether complied a list of what their users considered the most effective treatments of PTSD – which include yoga, art-therapy and even medical use of marijuana.

Everybody is different and you can’t be sure which treatment will suit you best, so speaking to a professional is advised. Among the most common treatments are anti-depressants, cognitive behavioural therapy (where patients are asked to re-think their negative thoughts) and daily routine modifications such as increases in exercise. It is best to try these initially and see if they help you – the easiest being creating yourself a regular daily routine paired with avoidance of  triggering places if you are not fit to be there.

PTSD can take a long time to recover from, and is often difficult to diagnose as sufferers do not like to talk about their trauma. But with medical professionals, scientists, and websites like curetogether are getting closer and closer to finding tailored methods of treating PTSD.

Soon I hope that silent sufferers of PTSD and cPTSD can feel confident enough to speak out about their trauma and get help, all over the world.

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Young, mixed-race student living in Scotland. Ready to talk about racism, sex education and feminism!

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