What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
What causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered when a person witnesses a psychologically traumatic event, such as war, a natural disaster, or any situation that invokes feelings of helplessness or intense fear. While most people eventually adjust to the aftereffects of such events, some people find their symptoms getting worse with time. These worsening symptoms are the product of PTSD.
How is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treated?
The main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are psychotherapy and medication.
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD.
It’s possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it’s never too late to seek help.
If you have PTSD that requires treatment, psychotherapy is usually recommended first. A combination of psychotherapy and medication may be recommended if you have severe or persistent PTSD.
Psychotherapy is a type of therapy often used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
The treatment is carried out by trained mental health professionals who listen to you and help you come up with effective strategies to resolve your problems.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that aims to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.
Trauma-focused CBT uses a range of psychological treatment techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event.
For example, your therapist may ask you to confront your traumatic memories by thinking about your experience in detail. During this process your therapist helps you cope with any distress you feel, while identifying any unhelpful thoughts or misrepresentations you have about the experience.
Your therapist can help you gain control of your fear and distress by changing the negative way you think about your experience. For example, feeling you’re to blame for what happened or fear that it may happen again.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new treatment which has been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
It involves making side-to-side eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist’s finger, while recalling the traumatic incident. Other methods may include the therapist tapping their finger or playing a tone.
It’s not clear exactly how EMDR works but it may help you to change the negative way you think about a traumatic experience.
You may also be offered group therapy as some people find it helpful to speak about their experiences with other people who also have PTSD. Group therapy can be used to teach you ways to manage your symptoms and help you understand the condition.
Antidepressants such as paroxetine, sertraline, mirtazapine, amitriptyline or phenelzine are sometimes used to treat PTSD in adults.
Of these medications, paroxetine and sertraline are the only ones licensed specifically for the treatment of PTSD. However, mirtazapine, amitriptyline and phenelzine have also been found to be effective and may be recommended as well.
However, these medications will only be used if:
* you choose not to have trauma-focused psychological treatment
psychological treatment wouldn’t be effective because there’s an ongoing threat of further trauma (such as domestic violence)
* you’ve gained little or no benefit from a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment
* you have an underlying medical condition, such as severe depression, that significantly affects your ability to benefit from psychological treatment.
If you, or someone you know, suffers from depression, or any other mental health issues, and needs help, please contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. SADAG is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. On this website you will find comprehensive mental health information and resources to help you, a family member or loved one.
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