POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)

INTRODUCTION

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as, warfare, rape accidents, child abuse, or other encounters that threaten one’s life. Its symptoms may vary from disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related cues, alterations in how a person thinks and feels, and an increase in the flight mentality. A person with PTSD is at a higher risk for suicide and intentional self-harm.

Most people who experience traumatic events do not develop PTSD. People who experience interpersonal trauma such as rape , combat or child abuse are more likely to develop PTSD as compared to people who experience non-physical based trauma, such as accidents and natural disasters. About half of people develop PTSD following rape.  Children are less likely than adults to develop PTSD after trauma, especially if they are under 10 years of age. Diagnosis is based on the presence of specific symptoms following a traumatic event.

The risk of developing PTSD is increased in individuals who are exposed to physical abuse, physical assault, or kidnapping. Women who experience physical violence are more likely to develop PTSD than men.

Prevention may be possible when counseling is targeted at those with early symptoms but is not effective when provided to all trauma-exposed individuals whether or not symptoms are present.  The main treatment for people with PTSD is psychotherapy (counseling) although medication can be prescribed in some instances.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of PTSD generally begin within the first 3 months after the inciting traumatic event, but may not begin until years later these may include: intrusive, recurrent recollections, flashbacks, and nightmares persisting for more than a month or cause dysfunction in one’s life or causing clinical levels of distress for longer than one month after the traumatic event. Recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorders may be hindered, or the condition worsened, when alcohol and drug abuse combine with PTSD.

PTSD RISK FACTORS

Military Personnel

These are people employed in combat to perform their duties in high risk situations. The combat situation of eminent danger, anxiety and events that threatens soldier’s life predisposes fighters to PTSD. If coupled with substance, alcohol and drug abuse, the soldier becomes extremely vulnerable to PTSD.

Victims of Natural Disasters

These are people who have suffered from natural calamities like land and mud slides, floods, Earth quake and famine among others.

Concentration camp survivors

These are people who have survived the horrible situation at concentration. These camps are established during time of emergency, and those who live in them are those who have left all their valuables behind and their freedom of movement is highly restricted, besides the heavy congestion in the camp.

Victims of violent crime

These are people who survived violent crimes like rape, car jerking, attempted murder, robbery, terrorism attacks among others.

Emergency workers

These are people who are exposed to trauma by their occupation. They include; ambulance drivers, fire fighters, health care professionals, train drivers, divers, journalists, sailors among others.

Intimate partner violence

An individual that has been exposed to family based violence is predisposed to the development of PTSD. However, being exposed to a traumatic experience does not automatically indicate that an individual will develop PTSD. There is a strong association between the developments of PTSD in mothers that experienced domestic violence during the prenatal period of their pregnancy.

Those who have experienced sexual assault or rape may develop symptoms of PTSD. PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing the assault, avoiding things associated with the assault, numbness, and increased anxiety and an increased scare response. The likelihood of sustained symptoms of PTSD is higher if the rapist confined or restrained the person, if the person being raped believed the rapist would kill them, the person who was raped was very young or very old, and if the rapist was someone they knew. The likelihood of sustained severe symptoms is also higher if people around the survivor are    ignorant of the rape or blame the rape survivor.

War-related trauma

This trauma will affect those within the war environment especially the Military personnel in the front line, the refugees due to their exposure to war hardships and traumatic events. While the stresses of war impact everyone involved directly or indirectly like the families and spouses of frontline soldiers, those with unmet needs especially wives of fallen soldiers and their children will most likely suffer PTSD.

Unexpected death of a loved one

Sudden, unexpected death of a loved one is the most common traumatic event. However, the majority of people who experience this type of event will not go on to develop PTSD. An analysis from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys found a 5.2% risk of developing PTSD after learning of the unexpected death of a loved one. Because of the high prevalence of this type of traumatic event, unexpected death of a loved one accounts for approximately 20% of PTSD cases worldwide.

Life-threatening illness

Medical conditions associated with an increased risk of PTSD include cancer, heart attack, and stroke. 22% of cancer survivors present with lifelong PTSD like symptoms. Intensive-care unit hospitalization is also a risk factor for PTSD.

Pregnancy-related trauma

Women who suffer miscarriage are at high risk of PTSD. While those who experience subsequent miscarriages have an increased risk of PTSD compared to those experienced only one. PTSD can also occur after childbirth and the risk increases if a woman had experienced trauma prior to the pregnancy. Prevalence of PTSD following normal childbirth is low with up to 6 weeks postpartum and even lower at 6 months postpartum while emergency childbirth increases the mother risk of PTSD.

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