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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD may develop in some individuals after they have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event that threatens their life or safety, or the lives and safety of other people. 

The four main clusters of symptoms include: 

  • Re-living the traumatic event through unwanted and recurring memories, flashbacks or nightmares. There may also be intense emotional or physical reactions when the individual reminded of the event. Some examples of these reactions include: sweating, heart pounding or panic.

  • Avoiding reminders of the event, including thoughts, feelings, certain people, places, activities or situations that bring back memories of the event.

  • Negative changes in the individual's emotions and thoughts. For example, feeling angry, anxious or afraid, afraid, guilty, flat or numb may be experienced. Individuals with PTSD may also develop beliefs such as “The world id not a safe place”, and may also feel  distanced or disconnected from other people.

  • Being hyper-alert  or ‘unable to relax  which may present as difficulty sleeping, irritability, poor concentration, exaggerated startle response and constantly watching out for danger signs.

Adolescents with PTSD generally experience problems like thos of adults with PTSD. However, childrenshow the following symptoms:

Re-living the traumatic event through repetitive play

Nightmares without recallable content rather than nightmaresthat replay the traumatic event.

Loss of interest in play

Social withdrawal

Anger or temper outbursts

Behaviour difficulties

Treatment for PTSD

PTSD is a treatable disorder. A major component of treatment for PTSD involves confronting the traumatic memory and working through thoughts and beliefs associated with the experience.  This type of treatment has bee shown to:

  • reduce PTSD symptoms

  • reduce anxiety and depression

  • improve a person’s quality of life

For children and young people preferred treatment is trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which involves:

  • psychoeducation - learning about the type of traumatic event experienced (e.g. how common it is) and common reactions to trauma

  • teaching relaxation strategies and managing anxiety

  • helping the child or young person to create a coherent story of the traumatic event, and correct any unhelpful beliefs about the event, including self-blame

  • gradual exposure to trauma-related objects or situations that are feared or avoided

  • helping the child or young person to resume everyday life

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