Here, we take the opportunity to revisit the topic of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), first covered in series three.
PTSD is a debilitating condition that can develop as the result of experiencing a severely traumatic event. In the above film, we explore the relationship between the disorder and its prevalence in servicemen and women returning from the frontline.
Meanwhile, we also hear firsthand how PTSD can change the lives of those it affects, while examining how perceptions of the condition have changed as our understanding of it has improved.
Since we last covered this topic, the number of British casualties resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased dramatically, meaning there are sure to be more soldiers returning from active duty who will still be coming to terms with the traumas they have experienced.
With this in mind, the film raises questions about how active service affects soldiers on the frontline, and what can be done to help those men and women who are forced to relive their traumas everyday due to post traumatic stress disorder…
What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that can affect anyone. It is estimated to affect 5 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women and can occur at any age, including childhood.
As discussed in the film, PTSD can affect servicemen and women who have seen action in war zones. However it is also prevalent in people who have been the victims of abuse, who have been involved in a near death experience, or those who have lost a loved one.
The symptoms of PTSD can arise shortly after a traumatic event, or in some cases years and even decades later - depending on the nature of the individual concerned. Adults can even be diagnosed with symptoms that are linked to a traumatic experience stemming from their childhood that has not manifested itself until later life.
Due to the prominence of PTSD in soldiers returning from war, it may come as no surprise that the condition was first recognised by modern medicine during the First World War, with soldiers’ memories of the trenches haunting them long after they returned home.
Subsequent wars, namely the Vietnam War and the Falklands conflict, have both helped to increase our understanding of this condition and helped to formulate ways of treating it.
Once symptoms do start to manifest, individuals typically re-experience the trigger event is some way, usually through flashbacks, nightmares and / or intrusive images or feelings.
Physiologic reactions, such as palpitations, sweating, or symptoms and signs of panic, commonly occur. In order to cope with these events, the person usually attempts to avoid situations that might trigger the memories.
In addition, the person may remain in a state of high arousal and become hyper-vigilant, irritable, and increasingly likely to startle. In some cases, the person may develop a numbing of the senses as a defence against the intolerable reliving of the emotional trauma.
Sadly, if not recognized and treated, these symptoms have been shown to increase the risk of social isolation, job loss, divorce, illness, drug use, alcoholism and even suicide.
A normal reaction to an abnormal event
If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is confronted, the easier it is to overcome.
If you’re reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.
It’s only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, post-traumatic stress disorder will only get worse.
The memories at the source of the trauma will not fade completely – they emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guard – and trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
Help is at hand
Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder relieves symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced. Rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, you’ll be encouraged in treatment to recall and process the emotions and sensations you felt during the original event. In addition to offering an outlet for emotions you’ve been bottling up, treatment for PTSD will also help restore your sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has on your life.
There are a number of therapies available that can relieve the symptoms of PTSD, including a multitude of different counselling techniques and medication. The support of family and friends is also proven to be a valuable factor in helping sufferers come to terms with their trauma.
As everyone is unique, so will be your path to recovery. The sooner the symptoms are addressed the better, and it is recommended that those experiencing PTSD should seek the help of a doctor as soon as possible.
For further advice on post traumatic stress disorder; its symptoms and avenues of treatment, please visit the NHS PTSD advice webpage, or if you believe you are suffering from the condition, seek the advice of your GP, who will be able to recommend the best course of action for you.