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Warning Signs of PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a psychological response to any intense traumatic events, including those that threaten life. For military veterans, the trauma may relate to direct combat duties, being in a dangerous war zone, or taking part in peacekeeping missions under difficult and stressful conditions whilst for other people it may have been an armed holdup, sexual assault, natural disaster or a kidnapping experience. As a result, the person experiences feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror.ptsd

Anyone can develop PTSD but people are at greater risk if the vent involved deliberate harm such as physical or sexual assault or they have had repeated traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse or living in a war zone. Apart from the actual event itself, risk factors for developing PTSD may include a past history of trauma or previous mental health problems, stressful life and a lack of social support. It is estimated that around 12% of Australians will suffer PTSD in their lifetime with serious accidents being the leading cause.

It is normal to experience distress when confronted with trauma, and most people recover over the few weeks after the event, particularly when supported with the help of caring family members and friends. However, for some people the symptoms do not seem to resolve quickly. It is also common for symptoms to vary in intensity over time. Some people go for long periods without any significant problems, only to relapse when they have to deal with other major life stresses. In rare cases, the symptoms may not appear for months, or even years, after the trauma.

What are the signs?
Different people will show different signs but there are basically three types of signs:
1. Reliving the traumatic event over and over again. It is through unwanted and recurring memories or nightmares known as ‘flashbacks’. They may be intensely emotional or have physical reactions such as sweating, heart palpitations or sheer panic when a flashback occurs.
2. Being overly alter or wound up and unable to relax. Seeing danger everywhere and being constantly tuned in to threat. As a consequence, the victim may become very jumpy, on edge and even snappy. They are constantly on guard. They may experience problems concentrating, sleeping difficulties, irritability and easily startled, especially by noises that remind them of the trauma.
3. Avoiding reminders of the event and feeling emotionally cold and numb by trying to block out the event. They may lose interest in their day-to-day activities, feel cut off and detach themselves from friends and family. This can lead ot social isolation which is a major risk factor for depression.

Who is susceptible to PTSD?
Approximately 5 – 10% of the general community may suffer from PTSD at some time in their life however in our military veterans it can be up to 20% depending on the nature of their work and deployment history. Considering the type of work involved for the military especially when on deployment, it is not surprising.ptsd-1

Early intervention and access to treatment are the first important steps towards recovery. Whilst there is no accepted timeline on recovery from PTSD, those that seek treatment will have a 30% recovery rate after a single course of treatment of up to six months. Another 30% will recover after longer treatment of approximately 12 months and may be left with significant residual symptoms. The other 30% are unlikely to benefit significantly from treatment and the focus on their treatment is on maintenance and how to manage symptoms rather than recovering in the more traditional sense.

Treatment can include psychological treatment and medication. Often the treatment is guided by a therapist or counsellor to seek ways to help digest and confront the painful memories to eliminate the distress, they learn strategies to re-engage in activities and tools to relax to reduce anxiety and stress. Generally, it’s best to start with psychological treatment rather than use medication as the first and only solution to the problem. Whatever course of treatment, you need the assistance of a professional to guide you through.

Further information is available at Beyond Blue or Dept of Veteran Affairs.

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