Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD, as the name suggests, is an anxiety disorder experienced by people who have gone through a traumatic or life-changing event, such as a war zone, natural disaster, an accident or serious illness. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the UK develops PTSD at some point in their life (PTSD UK), and 1 in 13 will have experienced the condition by the age of 18 (report published in The Lancet, March 2019). Studies have also shown that it is twice as likely to affect women as men and it can affect anyone at any age.
Exposure to a traumatic experience or event causes a chemical change in the brain which alters the ‘fight or flight’ response of someone with PTSD. They feel a heightened sense of danger, stress and fear, even when there is nothing to feel fearful of. This heightened sense of alert and fear can in turn cause severe anxiety and depression and can severely disrupt the life of the person with PTSD affecting sleep patterns, mood, concentration, expression of emotions and therefore their relationship with others.
CPTSD is a newly recognised form of PTSD and develops as a consequence of repeated trauma over months and years, such as in cases of long-term abuse or long-term imprisonment in warzones. It is thought that this lasting and repeated stress causes changes in the structure of parts of the brain which result in additional symptoms such as uncontrollable emotions, dissociation (feeling detached from emotions), loss of long-held beliefs, feelings of hopelessness, and in cases of abuse, a preoccupation with the abuser – either seeking revenge or the opposite, allowing the abuser inappropriate control.
Years ago, PTSD was commonly known as ‘shell-shock’ and was prevalent amongst veterans of the First World War. The condition was not fully understood and in the absence of an effective treatment, many veterans (mostly young men) suffered for years before being treated and were wrongly viewed as weak. PTSD can also develop as a result of other traumatic life experiences other than war, including assaults, accidents, natural disasters, illnesses and bereavements – and therefore it effects both sexes – women more than men.
Thankfully, nowadays the condition is much better understood and effective treatments are available including psychotherapy, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and Exposure Therapy where you are forced to re-experience some parts of the traumatic event but in a safe environment and confront your fears head-on. Sometimes anti-depressant medications can also help to alleviate some of the symptoms of PTSD. Support groups such as PTSD UK can also be an important support for developing coping strategies and aiding recovery from PTSD.
For further information on PTSD, view our videos.
Dr Adrian Winbow and Prof Tony Hale both have many years’ experience in diagnosing and treating PTSD. To make an appointment, please get in touch.