You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
Maya Angelou

Trauma and DissociationPost-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction to experiencing or witnessing a significantly stressful, traumatic, or shocking event. This might be a car crash, rape or other sexual abuse, an earthquake, or other natural disasters, or an attack.

Any situation where there was a risk of being killed or injured, seeing others killed or injured, or sometimes even hearing about such things, can result in PTSD. Some events are more likely than others to cause PTSD.

Reactions to trauma deliberately caused by other people, such as physical assault or rape, seem to be worse than those caused by accidents or natural disasters.

Living through PTSD can be an overwhelming, frightening, isolating, and debilitating experience.

People with PTSD may feel intense fear. They may feel that their world has fallen apart, that everything is black, and that nothing makes sense. Worse still, they can often lose hope or the belief that they can recover and lead a worthwhile life.

PTSD can affect people of any age, gender or culture. It’s more common among soldiers and refugees who have endured major traumas. Adults or teenagers who have experienced childhood sexual or physical abuse may also experience PTSD.

Children may be more vulnerable to PTSD than adults who have experienced the same stress or trauma. Their response to trauma may also be different.

Signs to look for (symptoms)

People with PTSD may be constantly watchful or jumpy. Their sleep is often disturbed and they may feel irritable and angry with themselves and others. Memory, concentration and decision-making are often affected.

You may try to avoid any situations, people or events that remind you of the trauma. You may be unable to feel emotions even for the people you love or care for. You may feel detached from others and may lose interest in things you once enjoyed.

The unpleasant feelings associated with the trauma keep coming back along with images, memories and intrusive thoughts about the event. There may be nightmares or bad dreams. In the daytime, you may feel that it’s all happening again or have brief but vivid memories or “flashbacks”.

Treatment options

Treatment of PTSD can involve a number of aspects, each of which can be tailored to your individual needs. Common treatments for PTSD include cognitive behaviour therapy, EMDR, acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness. You are an individual, however and so it is essential that your individual needs are met. This is commonly done using a variety of intervention skills adapted to a personalised treatment programme.

Physical health

It’s also really important to look after your physical well-being if you’re coping with PTSD. We will support you to obtain professional advice on your diet, activity levels, and medication use (if appropriate).

Important strategies to support recovery

Family, whānau and close friends of someone with PTSD have found the following strategies important and useful:

  • In the early days after the trauma give the person time and space to be alone if needed. As time goes by encourage them to get back into life again but never force them. Try to make sure they get the help they need.
  • Learn what you can about PTSD, its treatment, and what you can do to assist recovery. Sometimes the person with PTSD finds it difficult to explain to others how hard it is for them, or they may have trouble understanding what is happening to them and their behavior.
  • Do not blame the person for having PTSD. Understand the symptoms for what they are rather than taking them personally or seeing the person as being difficult.
  • Help the person to recognize stress and find ways of coping with it. This may include helping to solve problems that are worrying them.
  • Find ways of getting time out for you and feeling okay about this. It is critical to do what is needed to maintain your own well-being.
  • Don’t overlook any situation or suggestion from the person experiencing PTSD that they are suicidal and wanting to end their life. Get support for this immediately, eg, by talking to their GP or counselor.