we cry over deaths or trauma caused by robbers, kidnappers, militants, cultists, Boko Haram and others. But as this report of scientists shows, the nation faces a greater risk from the effects on eyewitnesses. They may never be the same again!
Trying to cope with the after-effects of severe trauma can be very difficult. New brain research and the hard work of survivors provide important insights.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. We often think of PTSD as a risk for soldiers, for people fighting in war, or those doing military service. Although it is a risk for them, PTSD can develop from any event that feels overwhelmingly threatening or scary to the person involved. It can happen to anyone, at any age, at home or anywhere.
Domestic violence, rape, child abuse and neglect, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, car accidents — these are just a few of the traumas that can lead to PTSD. It can also come from events that appear far less dramatic — such as ongoing bullying, a playground accident, or a medical procedure during childhood. It is important to recognize the myth that only obviously life-threatening events carry the risk of PTSD. Rather, PTSD is the result of the reactions and/or perceptions of the person traumatized.
The difference between PTSD and other types of traumatic experiences is that unwanted symptoms stay; they keep returning and intruding on the person’s present awareness.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
PTSD is a specific kind of stress-related disorder, diagnosed by mental health care professionals. No words can describe the debilitating impact of severe trauma on survivors. But a diagnosis can help people with PTSD seek appropriate treatment.
There are four clusters of symptoms:
•Negative thoughts and feelings
Flashbacks are the reactivated memories, sensations, and emotions that make a life-threatening or perceived threatening or frightening experience seem to be happening again. “Trauma continues to intrude with visual, auditory, and/or other somatic reality on the lives of its victims,” explains psychologist Babette Rothschild. “Again and again they relive the life-threatening experiences they have suffered, reacting in mind and body as though such events were still occurring.”
Flashbacks may seem to come out of nowhere, or they may be triggered by something incidental in everyday life.
Flashbacks may occur with or without conscious memory of the traumatic event. They may involve memories that a person can recall at will, also known as explicit memories. They may also involve those formed unconsciously such as those that occur in early childhood. Therapists refer to these as implicit memories, which form mental models of how the world works even though a person does not recall their origin.
Avoidance is a coping strategy for PTSD survivors. Staying out of situations that trigger overwhelming stress is one strategy. Another way to avoid reactivating an experience is by “dissociating” or taking mental leave of the body. This can happen to a degree that some PTSD survivors cannot even describe sensations going on. This coping strategy prevents many people with PTSD from living in the present and moving toward what they want in life. It denies them the right to feel safe and to pursue what is healthy and meaningful to them.
Some PTSD survivors experience hyperarousal — a feeling of always being alert and on edge. They may feel anxious – become busy all the time or seem unable to say no. There is intensive energy — a foot is shaking whenever the person tries to relax — or they may overreact at a sound like a balloon popping. They may dread making a mistake for fear something terrible will happen, even if part of them knows it isn’t rational.
It is as if the body’s self-defense system cannot be turned off.
Negative Thoughts and Feelings
One of the most difficult symptoms of PTSD is a negatively altered mood. Some people with PTSD may lose interest in things that they want to enjoy, be unable to concentrate, or feel that they are wandering through life like a ghost. These altered states differ from the dark moods that it is normal for people to fall into at times. With PTSD treatment, it is possible to learn new ways to cope and observe the waves of emotions without getting lost in them.
No matter how grim things look, know that these symptoms are part of the disorder. Brain research is shedding light on changes in the brain’s structure and function following the aftermath of trauma. This information helps explain why emotions and other symptoms occur the way they do. It also leads to treatments that can help PTSD survivors manage symptoms and even strengthen brain structures for the better.
PTSD and the Brain
Studies have revealed important structural and functional differences between the brains of people with PTSD and the brains of individuals without PTSD. They are different.
Treatment and Recovery
Therapy and recovery for PTSD is about calming the brain. It is a careful journey tailored to the needs of each person, so only general ideas can be outlined here.
Just as the experience of trauma changes the brain, therapeutic experiences can promote the growth of new connections in the brain, help resolve traumas and repair the brain’s abilities to function.
There is an urgent need for the country to attend to the psychological needs of the PTSD victims, especially the many children in the North-East and the other parts of the North. The country will be worse for it if we don’t.