When you hear the term Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may more often than not naturally think of war veterans or persons who have been severely traumatised by war. In Guyana, there is often some amount of misconception regarding PTSD being only linked to people who have experienced war, either directly or indirectly. But while a large population of people around the world are afflicted by PTSD due to being exposed to combat, other traumatic events can cause us to develop this very common disorder, which could be affecting you or someone you know.
As the name suggests, PTSD is a disorder derived from having experienced some kind of traumatic event, which then leads to severe levels of stress. The next question you might ask is: What kind of traumatic event does a person have to experience for them to suffer from PTSD? There are many, which include the following examples.
Home invasion/burglary: You are soundly asleep and are suddenly awakened by a loud noise. You look down the hallway and see someone rummaging through your belongings while holding a gun or a knife. They catch a glimpse of you and make their escape. While in this case you may have been left unharmed, the fear that you would have felt in the moment can cause trauma.
Being sexually assaulted: You are coming out of the bar at night and out of nowhere someone pulls you into a dark alley. In this moment, you are caught off guard and are completely helpless. Before you can even fathom what’s happening to you, you realise you are left lying in the corner of the road with your clothes undone. You have just been made the victim of a sexual assault, the effects of which can last a lifetime.
Being held hostage: You are in the bank and all of a sudden you hear someone shout, “Everyone on the floor! This is a robbery!” You immediately obey and survive this frightening ordeal but the thought of setting foot in a bank again terrifies you.
Receiving a diagnosis of a life threatening condition: You are health conscious. You eat well, sleep well and exercise. You go to the doctor for your yearly check-up, only to be told that they have discovered a brain tumour. As a result, you are left in a state of shock and possibly even denial.
In Guyana, we have a small society and many of us may have either experienced a traumatic event, such as a crime or an accident, firsthand or know of someone who has been affected. It is likely that many of may know of a family member or a friend who has committed suicide. Such a sudden, unexplained death could lead the living relative or friend to develop PTSD. There are also members of the police force, who have to inspect dead bodies at crime scenes. You might think that it is their job and that they should be used to that kind of stuff but policemen and women, like paramedics and even doctors, can experience a stress disorder because it’s not always easy to view the body of persons who were killed, particularly if they may have been murdered in a gruesome way.
So who is at risk of developing PTSD? Anyone who has experienced any of the above scenarios or any other traumatic event really. It is important to note that persons who already suffer from depression and anxiety may be more at risk of developing PTSD if they have experienced a traumatic event.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD? Anxiety, sadness, confusion, nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event.
What you can do if you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event: Seek professional help. Treatment comes in the form of medication, such as anti-depressants/anti-anxiety drugs, to help to alleviate feelings of sadness and anxiety, together with psychotherapy, which entails finding ways of coping through talk therapy. Remember, too, that family support is important. When the affected person leaves the doctor’s office, they need to be reassured that the support continues at home.
There are no preventative tools for PTSD because no one really knows when something traumatic will happen to them but what is important to keep in mind is that there is help available and, with the right care, affected persons can find effective ways of managing the trauma until they have overcome it.
Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department. You can send questions or comments to her at email@example.com