PTSD Symptoms - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In my experience, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not as common as you may think for those who are exposed directly to traumatic events.

I have seen many police officers and staff following work related traumatic incidents, sometimes in the most horrific circumstances, and I am often amazed at how well the human body and mind can recover from this exposure in such a short space of time (usually within a few days).

However, there are times when someone may become psychologically unwell as a result of their exposure to a traumatic event and PTSD symptoms can emerge.


Please note that I do not pretend to be a specialist when it comes to PTSD and I cannot diagnose.

However I am fully versed on the symptoms and best practice in respect of treatment for those who have been diagnosed and I aim to ensure that those people I meet who are showing strong signs of PTSD, are supported on their journey to possible diagnosis and treatment.

So, what are the symptoms of PTSD?

Re-experiencing

  • The most common symptoms of PTSD involve re-experiencing. Sufferers can have flashbacks where the person feels as though or acts as if the event was happening again. These flashbacks can be hugely distressing and occur at any time.
  • Intrusive thoughts and/or images can appear without being prompted.
  • Nightmares can be prevalent.
  • Reminders of the traumatic event can become intolerable and evoke distress and intense stress reactions in a person.

Hyperarousal

  • Someone with PTSD can appear highly anxious and hyper vigilant, almost as though they are waiting for a huge threat to appear.
  • Exaggerated startle responses are common. I had a client (who was later diagnosed with PTSD) who served in Afghanistan. He avoided supermarkets due to the noise of trolleys clashing together as he was embarrassed by his reaction to being startled.
  • Concentration is usually affected and people can become irritable.
  • Disturbed sleep is common for sufferers of PTSD – not being able to get to sleep, early waking or nightmares (mentioned above).
  • In contrast to hypervigilance, some people diagnosed with PTSD can have symptoms of emotional numbness. They can feel detached from people, even those they are closest to. It is possible to be disconnected from feelings and they can lack memory or partial memory of the traumatic event.

Avoidance

  • If you had PTSD, you would most likely avoid reminders of the event/trauma. This can be avoidance of particular places, situations and/or people associated with the event or resembling it. You would not want to talk about it and try to push memories to the back of your mind – this is extremely challenging for those who have to remember fine detail for their jobs or are a witness/directly involved and have to give statements or attend court hearings which can be months of waiting, sometimes longer.
  • Other sufferers of PTSD can become almost obsessed by what happened. They may ask themselves constantly “why did this happen to me?” They may also apportion blame and become preoccupied with thoughts of revenge. Thoughts of and/or talking “what ifs” is also common.

Despite the above symptoms, diagnosis for PTSD can be complex. Only a medical professional can diagnose the condition.

If you think you have symptoms of PTSD, then I do encourage you to see your doctor and seek medical intervention. Sadly, I think many sufferers go on for years without seeking help. Combat Stress state that the average time it takes for someone in the Armed Forces to ask for help with their psychological distress is 13 years. Please don’t let this be you.


If you have been involved in a traumatic experience recently and are worried about your reactions, see my page on trauma advice.

Take a look at how the brain can react to potentially traumatic events - the role of the Amygdala and Hippocampus.

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