Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) describes a range of disturbing psychological symptoms that can develop following a distressing experience. Symptoms can surface within a few weeks of the ordeal, but can also lie dormant for a long time – sometimes appearing years after the event. Not everyone who survives a trauma develops PTSD (and it can affect any age, gender or culture).

It is thought that fire fighters are up to 3 times more likely to suffer from PTSD than other members of the public. PTSD is a serious condition, which requires professional help.

What causes PTSD ?

PTSD can be triggered by life-threatening traumas that cause feelings of extreme fear, distress or helplessness. Known triggers are:

  • Accidents
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious illness
  • Death of a loved one
  • Terrorism or war

The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Sleep problems including nightmares and waking early
  • Flashbacks and replays which you are unable to switch off
  • Impaired memory, forgetfulness, inability to recall names, facts and dates that are well known to you
  • Impaired concentration
  • Impaired learning ability
  • Hyper vigilance (it feels like but is not paranoia)
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Irritability, sudden intense anger, occasional violent outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypersensitivity, whereby every remark is perceived as critical
  • Obsessiveness – the experience takes over your life, you can’t get it out of your mind
  • Joint and muscle pains which have no obvious cause
  • Feelings of nervousness, anxiety
  • Reactive depression (not endogenous depression)
  • Excessive levels of shame, embarrassment
  • Survivor guilt for having survived when others perished
  • A feeling of having been given a second chance at life
  • Undue fear
  • Low self-esteem and shattered self-confidence
  • Emotional numbness, anaerobia (inability to feel love or joy)
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Avoidance of anything that reminds you of the experience
  • Physical and mental paralysis at any reminder of the experience

If left untreated, these symptoms may develop into further psychological disorders, such as suicidal feelings, depression or phobias.

Six criteria usually need to be met before a diagnosis of PTSD.

  1. Trauma. The person must be exposed to a traumatic event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The persons response must involve fear, helplessness or horror.
  2. Intrusive. The person must persistently relive the event.
  3. Avoidance. The person must persistently avoid stimuli associated with the trauma.
  4. Physical. The person must experience persistent symptoms of increased arousal or over-awareness.
  5. Social. The disturbance must cause significant stress or impairment, in social, occupational or other areas of functioning important to the person.
  6. Time. The symptoms related to 2,3 and 4 must have lasted for at least one month.


PTSD is treatable. If you think you may have it, the first step is to see your GP, who will probably refer you for treatment. This often involves psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two.

  • Psychotherapy. Therapists tend to use behavioural therapy, which encourages you to talk about the trauma in detail and cope with the emotions that surround it, and/or cognitive therapy, which helps you to overcome any negative thoughts that you’ve developed since the trauma (such as, ‘I can’t see the point in living’).
  • Medication. Many people with PTSD also suffer from depression, so anti-depressants are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and make therapy sessions more effective. The length of your treatment depends on the severity of your disorder and how quickly you progress.

Further Information and Help.

Further help on PTSD can be found at the following website or by reading Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – The Invisible Injury by David Kinchin.

The above book is a good read for those suffering from PTSD, it lets you know that what you are going through is a common reaction to a traumatic event. It covers case histories of others who have gone through what you may be going through. It explains in detail the symptoms you might also be experiencing.

Bob Wilkinson (WilkyBob)