A couple of weeks ago the Guild of Health Writers ran an excellent evening session on PTSD – understanding the nature of the trauma that can provoke Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The four speakers included Noel McDermott, a psychotherapist who lived through many years of PTSD as a result of his own horrendous childhood experiences; Dr Jonathan Leach, a GP who spent many years as a military doctor and therefore has worked with many veterans who have suffered from PTSD as a result of their service; Dr Angela Kennedy, a clinical psychologist, who has worked in adult mental health in the NHS for many years and Dr Stephanie Lewis who has just completed research on the mental health of young people who have been exposed to traumatic events.
It was a very illuminating evening, even had you no specific interest in the area. So – for general interest – here are a few of the points that were made.
- Not everyone who witnesses or is involved in a traumatic event will suffer from PTSD.
- After being involved in or witnessing a traumatic even many people will have transient symptoms of PTSD such as poor sleep, anxiety, rumination etc which will resolve naturally over the course of a few weeks.
- The incidence of PTSD is surprisingly low at 4–6% of the population – although these figures may be an underestimate as a significant number of those who visit their GPs with psychological problems such as anxiety or depression may in fact be suffering from PTSD.
- Some groups of the population are certainly at higher risk of developing the condition:
- those who have been sexually assaulted (with multiple assaults increasing the risk)
- military veterans, especially those recently deployed in combat
- ambulance personnel
- The biggest group of sufferers are women who have suffered violence.
- Disrupted sleep patterns/insomnia one of the commonest symptoms of PTSD.
- Witnessing trauma or abuse – or an absence of care after the experience of trauma – can have as powerful an effect as actually suffering the trauma or abuse.
- In cases of abuse or trauma, the closer the relationship between the sufferer and the abuser, or the person to whom the trauma occurred, the greater the damage done.
- In cases of abuse, the earlier the abuse starts, the greater the damage done.
- If there is sufficient support for the traumatised child or adult from family or friends, PTSD can sometimes/often be avoided.
- Having the traumatic events validated by having them recognised is very helpful in terms of avoiding serious PTSD. In one survey recognition/validation was shown to reduce GP visits by 35%.
- Early trauma suffered alone can warp perception and understanding. A general fear of threats or anger make it impossible to rationalise and the result is often compliance to avoid a threatening situation.
- The earlier treatment for PTSD can be initiated the better the outcome. If treated early, there is a good chance of resolution; if not treated the sufferer all too often resorts to alcohol or drugs and their lives fall apart.
- But…. The services are not there to treat the condition. There can be up to an 18 month waiting list for an assessment.
An interesting alternative approach, although not mentioned by the speakers, is the use of psychedelics in the treatment of PYSD – see this report in Neuroscience News:
Summary: MDMA shows promise for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Combining the use of Ecstasy with psychotherapy treatments resulted in a reduction of PTSD symptoms after just one session. 54% of the study participants no longer met the PTSD criteria after two sessions. Patients also reported improvements in depression symptoms.
For a very much more in-depths investigation into the fall out from childhood abuse and trauma – and how to recover from it– see Micki Rose’s Eight Step Healing Plan to Recover from Chronic Illness.