Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome & Grief
Post traumatic stress syndrome is considered to be caused by a major traumatic event which is too painful to deal with. Post traumatic stress disorder is the only anxiety disorder that is defined as being caused by a traumatic life event.
First recognised in relation to war veterans, post traumatic stress syndrome has been referred to as battle fatigue or combat stress. Many other traumatic events which may lead to posttraumatic stress disorder have included child abuse, mugging, sexual assault, torture, car accidents, natural disasters and other potentially life threatening events. Communities and nations have been affected in recent times with the traumatic and unfathomable deaths of many relatives, friends and country people through war, terrorism and natural disasters. A traumatic and tragic death and loss of a loved one resulting in recurring recollections of the death, may also be related to PTSD. Post traumatic stress syndrome may be evident soon after the traumatic event, or it may appear to develop years later.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is identified through three general significant responses.
- Continued recollections and replays of the event . This may include unavoidable and often vivid recollections of the event, flashbacks and nightmares. The event is virtually relived over and over despite attempts to avoid the memory.
- Emotional withdrawal and avoidance The emotions are often numbed and people can appear to be unaffected, disinterested, emotionally isolated or dazed as a protection from possible overwhelming distress. There is often a change in habits in order to avoid situations, people or places that may trigger a reminder of the event. Emotional withdrawal also dims joy, happiness and the pleasures of life. People suffering with post traumatic stress disorder can be isolated and in a state of profound stress.
- State of anxiousness and easily startled Along with the general stress symptoms of anxiety, rapid heart beat and shallow rapid breathing, people with posttraumatic stress disorder will display restlessness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, an underlying fearfulness and constantly being on guard for danger. Panic and a sense of an imminent heart attack that may last for a few minutes, may lead to an avoidance of public places. People may also feel a sense of guilt as they could do nothing to stop the situation or event from occurring. There may be a distorted sense of self blame, How could I let this happen? Why couldn’t I do anything to stop it?
Causes and Risk Factors for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It has been suggested that people with post traumatic stress disorder may also have underlying risk factors that make them vulnerable to PTSD. These may include:
- Genetics and a family history of mental illness or trauma.
- Compounding life experiences and in particular abuse as a child.
- Personality type and poor coping mechanisms.
- Brain chemistry imbalances as for anxiety.
Other Common Problems that may occur:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, despair and/or shame
- Difficulty concentrating in the workplace and consequently difficulty in maintaining employment
- Difficulties dealing with emotions and maintaining loving relationships
Healing for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It is natural to have symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder after an extreme and traumatic event. However, if the symptoms get worse or do not quickly diminish it is important to seek professional help.
Some people may experience relief by talking to others about their experience. Other people however, may be reluctant to talk of their experience.
Three general steps to recovery from trauma are:
- Regain a sense of safety and security
- Regain a sense of control over what has happened and being able to bear the feelings associated with the trauma
- Retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma to allow the emotions to gain a new and more realistic understanding. Reconstructing the story will also allow for different, and more positive, responses to the traumatic memory and its triggers.
People need to mourn the loss caused by the traumatic event. There may be regrets or guilt over not having been able to change the situation. There may also be a shattering of confidence and distrust of others.
Mourning commences the recovery process by starting to let go of the trauma.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) appears to be a most effective counseling strategy for PTSD treatment. Research indicates that medications SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) are effective for PTSD treatment programs (consult your health specialist for a complete diagnosis and treatment plan).
see Anxiety & Grief Healing for Anxiety