HomeOpinionSeeking timely help and support may prevent development of PTSD

Seeking timely help and support may prevent development of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition triggered by a terrifying event that you either experience or witness, the psychological trauma of which may result in flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Psychological trauma is caused by extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security. It can result in you struggling with upsetting emotions and memories and make you continually anxious.

PTSD and Covid-19

Covid-19 has increased many people’s risk of developing PTSD. The global health emergency has resulted in psychological as well as physical health concerns as people are exposed to unexpected deaths or threats of death.

The infection rate for the disease and its associated mortality is high in many countries, which is having a negative impact on the psychological well-being of many people.

Healthcare workers who have close contact with Covid-19 patients are not only regularly exposed to the virus but witness increased illnesses, deaths and supply shortages.

The risk to their mental health may be compounded by a lack of immediate social support if they have to self-isolate after exposure to the virus.

Those working in Covid-19 quarantine units with lack of proper protective equipment and those who witness the death of fellow health workers are the most likely to develop symptoms of PTSD.

Causes of PTSD

Doctors are not sure why some people get PTSD. It is probably caused by a complex mix of stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you have gone through in your life.

You may develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you go through, see or learn about an event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.

Events known to sometimes lead to PTSD include serious accidents, physical or sexual assault, abuse, including childhood or domestic abuse, exposure to traumatic events at work, serious health problems such as being admitted to intensive care, childbirth experiences such as losing a baby, war and conflict as well as torture.

Other causes may be a family history of anxiety and depression, inherited features of your personality often called your temperament and the way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress.

Risk factors

The risk of developing PTSD depends on your initial response to the traumatic event, the intensity of your memory of it, your coping style, your feeling of safety and social support.

Risk factors include experiencing intense or long lasting trauma early in life such as with childhood abuse. Those whose work may expose them to traumatic events such as military personnel and first responders have an increased risk of developing PTSD.

If you have other mental health problems such as anxiety or depression or alcohol or drug misuse and lack a good support system of family and friends, you are more susceptible to developing PTSD after a traumatic event.

There may also be a genetic factor. Having blood relatives with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression, is thought to increase your chances of developing the condition.

Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD may start within one month of a traumatic event but may not appear until years after the event. They may cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.

Some of the symptoms include experiencing recurrent and intrusive memories, nightmares or flashbacks of the trauma, as well as avoiding reminders of the traumatic event such as the place where it occurred or people associated with it.

Others include feelings of guilt, anger or shame and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities as well as trouble sleeping.

People with PTSD cannot ‘just get over it’ as do most people.

Treatment

PTSD can be successfully treated even many years after the traumatic event or events occurred. The main treatments are psychological therapies and medication.

If your symptoms are mild and less than four weeks old, a watchful waiting approach may be recommended, where symptoms are monitored to see if they improve or get worse.

If your PTSD does require treatment, psychological therapy is usually recommended first. A combination of psychological therapy and medication may be recommended if it is severe or persistent.

Three main types of psychological therapy can be used to treat PTSD. One is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is intended to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.

Another type, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), involves making side to side eye movements usually by following the movement of your therapist’s finger while recalling the traumatic incident.

Group therapy is another type of psychotherapy. Some people find it helpful to speak about their experiences with other people who also have PTSD. Group therapy can help you find ways to manage your symptoms and understand the condition.

There is a range of medication that is used to treat PTSD, including antidepressants especially in adults. Antidepressants can also be prescribed to reduce any associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help with sleeping problems.

If medication for PTSD is effective it will usually be continued for a minimum of 12 months before being gradually withdrawn over the course of four weeks or longer. If medication is not effective in reducing your symptoms the dosage may be increased.

When it goes untreated, PTSD can last for decades. It can become worse rather than better over time. Obtaining effective treatment can therefore be critical to reduce symptoms and improve your functioning.

Prevention

After surviving a traumatic event, many people have symptoms that resemble those for PTSD at first such as being unable to stop thinking about what happened. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt are all common reactions to trauma. However for the majority of people the symptoms gradually subside and do not develop into long-term PTSD.

Timely help and support may prevent normal stress reactions from becoming worse and developing into PTSD. This may mean turning to family and friends who will listen and offer comfort. It may also mean seeking a mental health professional for a brief course of therapy.

Support from others may also help prevent you from turning to unhealthy coping methods such as misuse of alcohol or drugs.

The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — igo@cimas.co.zw or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.

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