Blog courtesy of PTSD uk –
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It’s estimated that 50% of people will experience a trauma at some point in their life and although the majority of people exposed to traumatic events only experience some short-term distress, around 20% of people who experience a trauma go on to develop PTSD (so around 1 in 10 people at some point in their lives).
The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to cause fear, helplessness, or horror as a response to the threat of injury or death, and therefore can affect anyone. Some examples of traumatic events include (please note this list is NOT exhaustive and we are adding content to this website all the time):
- Road traffic incidents
- Being told you have a life-threatening illness
- Violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, robbery, or mugging
- Medical staff
- Military combat and service
- Any form of abuse, including Childhood Abuse and Domestic Abuse
- Emergency Service Workers
- Employment where you repeatedly see distressing images or hear details of traumatic events
- Witnessing a suicide or attempted suicide
- Natural disasters such as flooding or an earthquake
- Terrorist attack
- Being kidnapped or held hostage
- Traumatic childbirth (in people who give birth and birth partners)
- Refugee and asylum seekers
- Early pregnancy Loss (including miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy)
- Sexual Assault or rape
- Prison Employees
- Admission to an Intensive Care Unit
- Any event in which you fear for your life
What causes PTSD?
PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event. When you experience something really traumatic your body suspends ‘normal operations’ and so temporarily shuts down some bodily functions such as digestion, skin repair and crucially, memory processing.
During trauma, your brain thinks ‘processing and understanding what is going on right now is not important! Getting your legs ready to run, your heart rate up, and your arms ready to fight this danger is what’s important right now, I’ll get back to the processing later.’
As such, until the danger passes, the mind does not produce a memory for this traumatic event in the normal way. So, when your brain eventually does go back to try to process the trauma, and the mind presents the situation as a memory for filing, if finds it ‘does not exist’ in your memory yet, so it sees it as a situation in the current timeline, and so it can be very distressing.
The distress comes from the fact that the brain is unable to recognise this as a ‘memory’, because it hasn’t been processed as one. As such, the facts of what happened, the emotions associated with the trauma and the sensations touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, and smell can be presented by the mind in the form of flashbacks – as if they are happening right now. The distress during the traumatic event, and this continued distress is what causes that changes in the brain, and the subsequent symptoms of PTSD.
The prevalence of PTSD and C-PTSD as a result of certain traumas is something that continues to be monitored and researched, but current estimates show the following figures (please note this doesn’t include ALL causes of PTSD).
It can feel daunting to take the first step towards dealing with your issues but if you have the courage to do so the journey can start now.
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