PTSD Symptoms are Caused by Trauma.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs as a result of trauma. Not everyone develops PTSD after experiencing a trauma. Researchers are still trying to work out why some people develop PTSD and others go through exactly the same experience and come away unscathed. Current thinking is that it is something to do with personality, type of trauma, support provided, genetics and previous exposure to trauma.
There is some controversy as to how many Australians live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Generally studies suggest anywere between 3 – 8% of the Australian Population live with PTSD. The various prevalance rates could be caused by under diagnosis of the condition, due to people denying they have the disorder, and the difficult nature of recognising the disorder.
However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (SMHWB) found that there were 3.2 million Australians aged 16-85 years with a 12-month mental disorder. Of those, by far the biggest group, 6.4% (1+ million) had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. By contrast, depressive episodes occurred in 4.1%.
Intrusive thoughts can be experienced via flashbacks, or reoccurring pain. It can also manifest in dreams, that can lead to insomnia or sleep disturbance.
People living with PTSD will typically avoid smells, tastes, touch or any sensation that reminds them of the traumatic event they experienced. As a result, people with PTSD may avoid people (such as friends, family and colleagues), and places (such as work or home) as a coping mechanism to stop reliving traumatic memories. This can cause them to feel detached from people, to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and feel that their future is bleak. This avoidance behaviour can also lead to the person experiencing emotional numbing.
Panic attacks are often experienced by people living with PTSD. This wound up state that people living with PTSD experience, can cause anger and irritability. Additionally, prolonged stress can cause memory and concentration problems.
There is a variety of ways to screen for PTSD. Below is a short screening scale for PTSD, defined by the fourth edition of the Diagnostic Screening Manual (DSM IV). This scale was created by Naomi Breslau and her research team in 1999, based on practical PTSD cases.
Answer yes or no to the following questions…
- Do you avoid reminders of an experience by staying away from places, people or activities?
- Have you lost interest in activities that were once important or enjoyable?
- Have you begun to feel more distant or isolated from other people?
- Do you find it hard to feel love or affection for other people?
- Have you begun to feel that there is no point in planning for the future?
- Have you had more trouble than usual falling or staying asleep?
- Do you become jumpy or easily startled by ordinary noise or movements?
If you answered yes to 4 or more of these questions, it is recommended that you talk to your GP about PTSD. This screening measure is not 100% accurate, so a GP is needed for diagnosis.
- Acute PTSD – PTSD symptoms last for at most 3 months.
- Delayed PTSD – PTSD symptoms occur at least 6 months after a traumatic event.
- Chronic PTSD – PTSD symptoms last for at least 3 months.
Currently there is some speculation over whether there is a fourth form of PTSD – complex PTSD. Complex PTSD is thought to be associated with borderline personality disorder, and is more common for people who have lived with PTSD for a long time and experienced childhood abuse.
PTSD is a very complicated illness and can occur alongside, or exacerbate other types of illnesses. For this reason it can be very hard to diagnose.
PTSD can also lead to physical illness, such as skin rashes, stomach complaints, cardiovascular problems, asthma, headaches, diabetes and dental problems (due to grinding teeth). These studies do not state that someone with PTSD will always experience these physical illnesses, but instead are more likely to experience them than the general healthy population. To avoid these physical symptoms it is important that people living with PTSD maintain a healthy diet and exercise, and seek treatment if necessary.