Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It is not uncommon for a person to develop stress-related reactions psychological stress after a traumatic experience. These include:

  • Road traffic accident
  • Domestic violence
  • Physical assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Work-related accidents

Most people would have some stress-related reaction after experiencing these events and they would usually fade in two to three weeks.

Common stress-related reactions
It is common for many people to exhibit stress-related reactions after experiencing a difficult event. Going through such traumatizing events can lead to the following reactions that usually fade in two to three weeks.

  • Anxiety and fear. Even though the event may be over, feelings of fear and anxiousness may still linger. You may feel tense and unable to sleep or relax, and feel the need to be on alert constantly.
  • Sadness and depression. A sense of loss often accompanies such events, stemming from the loss of a loved one, of one’s physical health, or even a sense of betrayal. Crying spells, feelings of emptiness, inability to feel joy or happiness, a loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, and feelings of guilt are signs of sadness.
  • Anger and irritability. Sometimes, the precipitating situation invokes anger and frustration in the person, especially if they were not the direct cause of it. They may be more impatient and have a tendency to lash out at innocent parties for what seems like minor issues, or for no reason at all. The anger can lead to irritation, causing the person to feel agitated easily.
  • Behavioural changes. Some people cope with the unexpected incident using unhealthy methods, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and the over-reliance on sleeping pills or other forms of medication. Although it is evident that these habits have a serious and negative impact on one’s health, the victims typically feel that these strategies are the only things helping them cope.

If these symptoms last beyond three weeks and begin to impair an individual's daily functioning, he or she may have developed PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be characterised by four main symptom groups.

Reliving the event
The memories of the event can return at any time and the person may feel the same type of fear and horror experienced during the actual trauma. The person may have nightmares about the event or feel like they are going through it again. This is known as a flashback. Sometimes, triggers like the horn of a car or a bright flash of light can cause the person to relive the event.

Avoiding situations that reminds them of the event
The person may start avoiding situations or people who reminds him/her of the traumatic event. This can disrupt his/her life, for example, being unable to drive as driving on the road will cause the person to relive an accident. The person may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. They may purposely keep themselves busy or avoid seeking help as they do not want to think or talk about the event anymore.

Feeling numb
The person may find it hard to express how he/she feels. This is another way of avoiding the unpleasant memories associated with the event. The person may also find it hard to even remember parts of the trauma. He/She may start drifting away from loved ones as it is difficult to have any loving feelings. The person may no longer enjoy spending time with them. Sometimes, he/she may feel lousy about himself/herself and no longer see any positive future.

Feeling on the edge ( hypervigilance)
The person may be jittery and always on the lookout. He/She might get angry easily and can become upset suddenly. This is also known as hyper arousal. Loved one may find that the person is getting more impatient with them. Certain behaviour may get him/her into trouble with others, for example, he/she fly into a rage when someone bumps into him/her accidentally.
Apart from the symptoms described earlier, people with PTSD may develop depression and anxiety problems. They may feel hopelessness, shame and despair. Alcohol abuse and dependence is also common. Sufferers of PTSD frequently experience employment and relationship difficulties.

Taking the next step – seeking help
If the stress reactions persist beyond a month or the person’s life has been affected adversely, it may be time to seek help.
There are good treatments available for PTSD. The two main types are psychological therapy, sometimes called “counselling” as well as the careful use of medications. Sometimes, people get better with just one form of treatment, and sometimes, both are needed.

It is never too late to get professional treatment or support for PTSD. Receiving counselling or treatment as soon as possible can keep the symptoms from getting worse. Sufferers of PTSD have benefited from treatment that allows them to deal with their symptoms in new ways and return to a more normal functioning.

The person can consider seeking help with:

  • A mental health professional, such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist
  • General practitioners/family doctors: Ask if the doctor can refer you or your loved ones to mental health professionals who are able to help deal with PTSD

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Department of Psychological Medicine provides comprehensive assessment and management of anxiety disorders.  We have a dedicated multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists and psychologists that can provide assessment and treatment for you and your loved ones’ psychological and emotional distress.

It is never too late to seek help. If you would like to obtain an assessment, please obtain a referral from your doctor or call 65558828 for an appointment.