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Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complex illness that may arise in anyone from young children to adults, of either sex.
Typically post-traumatic stress disorder occurs sooner or later after some form of traumatic experience. The traumatic experience may be exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, sexual violence, or other forms of trauma. The experience may involve undergoing the event directly or witnessing the event, learning the event happened to a loved one or friend, or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder often involves intrusive thoughts and memories of the traumatic stress. Sleeping and dreaming may be affected. The sufferer may experience flashbacks to the traumatic event which may feel like the event is “happening again”. The sufferer may also experience intense or prolonged psychological stress and/or marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can feel acute fear and anxiety when the sufferer is undergoing a relapse or flashback to the event. Sufferers may also be unable to remember important aspects of the event (dissociation). Sufferers may experience a range of negative emotions, including persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about self, others or the world. They may experience behaviour that is irritable, reckless or self-destructive, hypervigilant, have exaggerated startle responses or have problems with sleep or concentration.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder often exhibit signs of high psychological or physiological stress/anxiety associated with the traumatic event or events they have experienced. They may be severely agitated, irrational or experience or act on suicidal ideation.
For some people, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress may subside in the first few weeks after the traumatic event with the help of family and friends.
For those with persistent symptoms, psychological intervention may be helpful, particularly if their therapist or psychologist has experience or specialisation in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma-focused psychotherapy is recommended. Common interventions may include “prolonged exposure” therapy, “cognitive processing” therapy, and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing).
In a number of cases psychiatric medication may also be recommended for the sufferer. Serotonin class anti-depressants can be particularly useful, as well as other medications to reduce high arousal levels and assist sleep.