POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
Many people feel that no matter what they’ve been faced with, no matter how traumatic, they should be able to heal and move on. However, when people face situations of extreme trauma – a terrifying event or ordeal, often life-threatening or causing physical harm – they may be unable to cope and function in their daily lives.
This level of distress caused by memories of a trauma may lead an individual to live their lives attempting to avoid any reminders of what happened. Research suggests that prolonged trauma may disrupt and alter brain chemistry, which may lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a serious and common health condition which leads individuals to experience intense fear, horror or sense of helplessness. PTSD can affect all aspects of an individual’s life, including their spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Recovering from PTSD and getting beyond the underlying trauma requires professional help.
Symptoms of PTSD
People respond in many different ways to extreme trauma. While many people who survive traumatic experiences do not develop PTSD, those who do may experience symptoms several weeks, months or even years later.
Some people experience ‘individual trauma’ – a blow to the psyche that breaks through a person’s defenses so suddenly and with such brutal force that they cannot react to it effectively – such as sexual abuse. People who experience this type of trauma may:
- Have increased risk of impulsive behaviour or suicide;
- Develop mental health issues; and,
- Experience the effects of re-traumatization after early trauma exposure in childhood.
Other people experience ‘collective trauma’ – a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds between people and the sense of community – such as the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. This type of trauma is often less visible to mental health clinicians than individual trauma. People who experience this type of trauma find it difficult to heal from the effects of individual trauma while the community around them remains damaged and there is no community support system. The effects of collective trauma can include:
- Severed social ties with each other, their families and their community;
- Relocation away from natural centres of support, such as family, neighbours, churches, clinics, child care, recreation programs and schools; and,
- Demoralization, disorientation and loss of connection.
- Community-based interventions such as outreach support groups, community organizations, consultation and training of ‘gatekeepers’ and community caregivers are essential to rebuilding and strengthening damaged social ties.
Three categories or ‘clusters’ of symptoms commonly associated with PTSD include:
- Re-living the event (people, places, thoughts and activities) associated with the trauma – this can lead to chills, heart palpitations and panic;
- Avoiding reminders of the event – this can lead sufferers to feel emotionally withdrawn from friends and family and lose interest in everyday activities; and,
- Being on guard or being hyper-aroused at all times – this can include feelings of irritability or sudden anger, having difficulty sleeping or concentrating or being overtly alert or easily startled.
Additionally, people with PTSD often have other problems that mask or intensify their symptoms, including:
- Low self-esteem;
- Relationship problems and feelings of disconnection;
- Psychiatric problems, such as depression, dissociation (losing awareness of the ‘here and now’), or other anxiety and panic disorders;
- Self-destructive behaviour, such as drug or alcohol abuse, suicidal impulses, high-risk sexual behaviours (which may result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections);
- High-risk behaviours which can be life-threatening, including fast or reckless driving;
- Physical complaints, many accompanied by depression, including:
- Chronic pain with no medical basis (often gynecological problems for women);
- Stomach pain or digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation;
- Eating disorders;
- Breathing problems or asthma;
- Headaches, muscle cramps or other aches such as low back pain;
- Cardiovascular problems; and,
- Sleep disorders; and,
- Stress-related conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Treatment for PTSD is best accepted and utilized when integrated into existing, trusted community agencies and resources. In addition, programs are more effective if Indigenous workers are involved in the service delivery. Eyaa-Keen provides Traditional Behavioural Health Services through intensive outpatient treatment sessions which are an effective and gentle way to address PTSD and related issues.
Additionally, our outreach work has an educational aspect to promote and enhance healthy adaptation and coping. We provide survivors of traumatic experiences with guidance about normal stress and grief reactions, stress management strategies and information about resources to help prevent the onset of PTSD.