You can't have PTSD, you're not in the military

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after you experience a traumatic event. Some people assume that if you have PTSD, it’s because you were once in the military. This is far from what actually happens. While there is a clear link between PTSD and being a way veteran, but people can experience traumatic events outside of the battlefield as well. The key is having experienced a traumatic event, not being in the military. PTSD can affect 1 in 3 of those affected by a traumatic event. These can be defined as events that make the person that experiences them feel very threatened or at risk. The threat or risk can be to themselves or to others, witnessing a traumatic event can be enough to cause PTSD. Examples include road accidents, sexual or domestic abuse, violent attacks, witnessing violence, military combat, being held hostage, terrorist attacks and natural disasters such as tornadoes. Given that 60% of men and 50% of women in the USA experience a traumatic event in their lifetime and that 1 in 3 people who experience trauma develop PTSD, it is more common than we think.

So, what exactly is PTSD?

It is a type of anxiety disorder that is triggered by an event that the person experiences as highly threatening. This event is captured in their mind as 'flashbulb memory' which is abnormally vivid. From that moment they experience a range of symptoms such as:

  • Unwanted, intruding memories of the traumatic event

  • Trauma-related nightmares and flashbacks

  • Intense emotional distress

  • Avoidance of certain places or people related to the event - they may not even want to watch television for fear that something in the news might trigger their traumatic memories

  • A heightened perception of threat

  • Irritability and anger

  • More alert and easily startled

  • Problems with concentration

  • Inability to fall asleep or staying asleep

  • Physical symptoms such as pain, heart racing, and stomach cramps.

  • Use of coping strategies that can be more harmful such as isolating themselves, and using drugs or alcohol

PTSD can usually be successfully treated with the help of your mental health professional. Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in treating PTSD in order to help you move on from the trauma. Sometimes anti-depressants are also given. If you have experienced a traumatic event and the initial feelings haven’t subsided after a couple of weeks, it may be best to visit your GP. Though medical intervention is recommended, there are a few things you can do to self-help before, during or after treatment.

  • Get moving. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, improve your mood and help you recover. Research has shown that exercise is not just good for your body, it is also good for your mind.

  • Control. PTSD can leave you feeling vulnerable and powerless over your symptoms. But by learning that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed, you can directly challenge this sense of helplessness and start to feel in control again. One easy technique is deep breathing exercises!

  • Connect. Once the fight or flight reflex has been triggered, face-to-face connection with a person who makes you feel safe and valued one of the quickest, most effective ways of coping with the anxiety. You don’t have to talk about the trauma if you don’t want to, but the caring support and companionship of others is vital to your recovery. Reach out to someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen when you want to talk without judging, or criticising.

PTSD can have a huge impact on relationships and family life. You may have to deal with disturbing behaviour and frustration. PTSD can also result in job loss and other negative situations. The best strategy is to learn about PTSD, be patient,  take care of yourself and encourage your partner to seek support and take the lead.

Sam GlassComment