Written by: Eliora Tan Yu Xuan (21-E5), Harel Tan Zunn Yong (21-I2), Tan Le Kai (21-I4)
Designed by: Jervis Ch’ng Yun Ping (21-U5)
Introduction: What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that is exhibited in some victims and witnesses of major traumatic and disturbing events, such as sexual violence, war, and natural disasters.
In the past, PTSD was often associated with veterans, and was therefore given many names, such as “shell shock” and “combat fatigue” after World War I and II respectively. However, with time, psychologists discovered that it was not only veterans who might suffer from PTSD – there exists other groups of individuals who had similar symptoms, and were therefore diagnosed with the same condition. Like other mental health disorders, anyone can develop PTSD, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. Therefore, we need to be aware of its symptoms,, the various ways to support those suffering from PTSD, as well as what not to say to them.
What are the Symptoms?
As a whole, there are 17 symptoms of PTSD, but the most common symptoms include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative shifts in thoughts and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
Intrusive memories are characterised by severe, perturbing thoughts and feelings linked to negative memories, which come back to haunt someone long after the triggering event has passed. One may re-experience the traumatic event repeatedly via sudden relapses when reminded of the incident, or even through harrowing nightmares.
Individuals may also avoid making conversations about their experiences, and intentionally shun away from any place, activity or people which remind them of the traumatic event.
Victims of PTSD experience negative changes in thinking and mood, which include a sense of hopelessness, a bleak view of the world around them, or a sense of detachment from their loved ones. Memory loss is also a possible symptom of PTSD, given that individuals often seek to forget the haunting encounter.
Lastly, changes in physical and emotional reactions occur in terms of insomnia, irritability, guilt, shame, and a wealth of emotions.
These symptoms have varying levels of intensity, depending on an individual’s ability to cope with the traumatic event. One may experience more of these symptoms when put under intense stress, or when constantly reminded of the shocking experience.
Ways to Support Those with PTSD
When we try to support those with PTSD, the very first step is to be mindful of our words and actions. It would also be helpful to educate ourselves about PTSD given that it is often misunderstood and there is a stigma attached towards it.
One way of supporting PTSD patients is to lend them a listening ear and listen to their thoughts without any expectations or judgements. While we should never force them to open up about their emotions , we can be there for them when they are ready to talk.
A person with PTSD may find the need to air out their negative emotions in relation to the traumatic event as this is part of the healing process. We should practice active listening to actively engage with the PTSD patient, and not undermine or compare their experiences with others as we do not fully understand what they are experiencing.
Another way of supporting those with PTSD is to encourage them to seek professional treatment from a psychiatrist. PTSD is a mental condition that is commonly trivialised by many, and this very stigma may cause potential victims to be hesitant to seek treatment.
As such, we could encourage them to seek help by being by their side every step of the way and going through the treatment process with them. This could give them more assurance and make them more inclined to seek treatment.
How People with PTSD Cope
There are a few ways one could cope with PTSD.
Some PTSD patients live with PTSD by finding ways to distract themselves from their traumatic memories. This can be done via a multitude of methods such as regular exercise, picking up a hobby or making new friends. These methods help them to avoid being reminded of their traumatic experiences, enabling them to lead normal lives.
Other PTSD patients might resort to seeking counselling to cope with the trauma. Counseling offices can offer a safe and calm space for PTSD patients to speak their emotions without any fear of being judged. Having a trained professional available to offer support and guidance will help in their long-term recovery.
Some PTSD victims also find it relaxing to journal their thoughts and have a consistent place to go back to in order to write and process their experiences. Research has shown that people struggling with PTSD benefit from keeping a journal, including experiencing fewer flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories, helping them slowly reconnect to people and places that they may otherwise want to avoid.
What Not to Say to Someone with PTSD
- “Stop being so dramatic”
This statement trivializes the experience of one suffering from PTSD. While what is ‘traumatic’ varies from person to person, these are frightening experiences to those suffering from PTSD, and they continue to suffer from stress and fright from the experience. To dismiss their very real experiences as an exaggeration can be extremely hurtful and demeaning.
- “It is all in your head.”
While most mental disorders are indeed psychological, this statement implies that PTSD is simply born from imaginations and can easily be ‘forgotten’. The truth can’t be any further. PTSD symptoms are recurring and often instill genuine fear and stress comparable to their actual experiences. In other cases, avoidance symptoms occur as sufferers try to block out thoughts and reminders of the event, which is unhealthy because of the extreme mental duress . PTSD sufferers often need psychotherapy and medication as treatment, recovery is not as simple as ‘getting it out of your head’.
- “People have been through worse”
Yes, we all know people have been through worse, but it is again trivialising the experiences of those suffering from PTSD. When we feel hurt, we would appreciate for those around us to express their care and concern, not for others to say statements that trivialise our experiences. The same goes for PTSD patients, who are battling their demons and would like to experience care and support.
- “Do you act up in public?”
News articles may often report of PTSD sufferers ‘acting up in public’ or portrayed as such in movies. While it is true certain triggers, which may often seem out of the blue, can cause freight and irrational actions, it varies from person to person. For example, only 49% suffer flashbacks, which often triggers ‘acting up’. Most will experience stress and freight but will not act irrationally. Most are undergoing therapy as well to cope with their PTSD. It is good to exercise compassion and empathy and understand it is often out of their control.
While PTSD is more often associated with war veterans, it is not only limited to war veterans but those who suffer traumatic experiences as well. There could be people around us that may suffer from PTSD, making it all the more important for us to reduce this stigma that may trivialise and mock their experiences. It is important we care for these individuals who exist in our community and educate ourselves to know what they have been and are going through.
- Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
- NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2019, May). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
- Torres, F. (2020, August). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
- Wall, S. (2021, June 14). What are the 17 Symptoms of PTSD? | PTSD Awareness Month. Cumberland Heights. https://www.cumberlandheights.org/blogs/17-symptoms-of-ptsd/
- Washkowiak, K. (2020, January 15). 10 Things Not to Say to Someone With PTSD (And Some Alternatives). Yahoo! News. https://sg.news.yahoo.com/10-things-not-someone-ptsd-100434798.html
- MacDonald, B. et al. (2017, 18 October). Prevalence of pain flashbacks in posttraumatic stress disorder arising from exposure to multiple traumas or childhood traumatization https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24740527.2018.1435994