Do you remember Lt.Dan in Forrest Gump? The one who came back from the war crippled? He blames Forrest for saving him and after they come home, he is seen struggling with the impacts of war. He engages in self-destructive behavior, is reckless and is usually angry. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark struggles with insomnia and panic attacks due to the alien invasion. This causes avoidance issues and strains his relationship with his girlfriend. In American Sniper, a well-decorated sniper comes home a hero and legend but that does not translate to his personal life. His trauma puts a strain in his relationship with his family and has difficulty transitioning into civilian life.
Get the drift? What do these characters have in common?
They all suffer from Post traumatic stress disorder!
Many individuals suffer from PTSD without even realizing it. A person may experience prolonged heightened emotional, psychological or even physical distress which could be in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, anger, nervousness or nausea after a traumatic event. All these are classic feelings and symptoms. So what exactly is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental condition that develops when a person experiences or witnesses a horrifying event. PTSD affects people of all races, ethnicity and age. The intensity of the symptoms varies from one person to the other and so is the treatment. Early detection of the condition can help lessen the illness’s effects or even cure the condition completely. This is because symptoms of PTSD become severe overtime.
In Kenya, “Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among school-age youth can result from witnessing or experiencing war, disasters, sexual and child abuse, torture, motor vehicle accidents, and other traumatic events” says a research done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
Other traumatic events range from having a bad child-birth experience esp neglect and being mishandled, robbery or muggings, witnessing violent deaths e.g soldiers or child soldiers at war, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, diagnosis with a life threatening condition esp if informed unprofessionally, the loss of a loved one and other factors which do not necessarily cause physical harm.
According to Dr. Mukuhi Ng’ang’a on the Business Daily, “some of these life events are not universally traumatic but can be challenging (in other words, different people can experience the same terrifying event but only one or two will develop PTSD). PTSD can develop a few weeks, months or even years after a disturbing event. In Kenya, most people with PTSD are often dismissed as ‘attention-seekers’ and few get the psychological support and medical intervention that they need.”
Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are classified in 4 major categories:
- Intrusive thoughts – These may include horrifying thoughts and nightmares that include memories of the traumatic event. These thoughts are often unwelcome and an individual involuntarily experiences them. A person with such a symptom may feel as if one is reliving the experience all over again.
- Avoidance – a person who has experienced a traumatic event, say, post-election violence may avoid coming into contact with places or objects that may remind him of the traumatic event. Also, one may avoid talking about the ordeal or anything to do with politics or an electoral process. A person may be forced to change his routine in a bid to avoid triggers of the traumatic event.
- Negative thoughts and feelings – These include issues such as self-blame and guilt, pessimism, negative feelings toward others etc. These symptoms breed trust issues. Also, in some cases, one may lose interest in things one enjoyed doing before the traumatic event such as hobbies.
- Arousal symptoms – These symptoms tend to be constant as opposed to being triggered by traumatic reminders. A person with arousal symptoms often feels angered and stressed easily. These symptoms interfere with one’s daily tasks such as daily chores, interacting with other people, work and may lead to difficulty sleeping.
- Anxiety– Feelings of anxiousness usually invade a person going through PTSD. These feelings are usually felt when the fear of the traumatic event happening again manifests within an individual. Anxiety affects the persons quality of life.
- Sexual change- A decline in sexual interest especially if one had a traumatic childbirth, was raped or witnessed sexual abuse of another individual is also witnessed in persons dealing with PTSD.
- Self-destructive behaviors- These behaviors are dangerous and lead to addictions, more mental health issues and even death. an individual indulges in these behaviors as a way to numb the pain or forget the traumatic event. the behaviors may include sexual recklessness, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, eating problems etc
- Suicidal thoughts– These thoughts manifest themselves when a person looses interest with life and wishes to die based on the events that happened. A person feels this way due to the feelings of hopelessness, no support from others, self-blame or blame from others, shame etc
For one to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms are usually recurrent and last for at least a month. Some symptoms may naturally disappear within a short period, hence cannot be automatically ruled as PTSD or form a basis for diagnosis.
Like other mental illnesses, treatment for PTSD may include; psychotherapy, medication or both. The type of treatment an individual gets depends on the diagnosis and severity of the condition. Also, the treatment varies from one person to the other because people react differently to the illness. Treatment may also change overtime depending on how one reacts to a particular method of treatment.
Living with PTSD can be very stressful for an individual and their loved ones and definitely affects the quality of their lives as it not only affects one’s daily life but also affects a person’s interpersonal relationships. For example, a person who has experienced and survived a terror attack in a mall will avoid going to that particular mall or just malls in general. So if this individual is invited to visit the mall, they may be apprehensive and bail out. This not only affects them, but also their relationships with others.
Generally, it is important to avoid issues like offering unsolicited advice, telling them to snap out of it/get over it or even asking them to pray about it. All kinds of judgment and negative opinions should be kept at bay as no one understands the way an individual feels apart from them.
Acknowledging their feelings and being a shoulder to lean on is a great way to be there for someone. When you notice a change in an individual after experiencing a traumatic event, encourage them to speak out and even seek professional help. Providing a healthy and stress-free space for day to day activities is important in managing and improving the lives of people with PTSD, not only for them but and also for their families and loved ones.