Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD...or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.
We hope you find the information useful and if you do, please feel free to share it.
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is classed as an anxiety disorder and is often associated with military personnel, or those who have served in the armed forces, but it is not exclusive to that group of people.
It can be caused as a consequence of any traumatic event that has proved to be incredibly stressful, frightening or extremely distressing in your life. The incident, whatever it was, doesn't have to have affected you directly. You may have witnessed it or it could have impacted on someone close to you.
To understand how PTSD and its associated memories keep re-emerging, we'll try and explain the brain and how it processes memories, in the most basic way. Bear in mind the brain is an incredibly complex piece of biological engineering (apart from mine, which is basically an abacus) and no-one REALLY knows, so this, as we said, is a very basic explanation.
Despite what Pixar's Inside Out (or the Numbskulls for older readers) might have taught us, memories aren't stored in library-like racks in our brains which allow us to simply pick and choose which ones to remember. The memory of 'anything' is built up from a collection of 'images' that our brains combine to make a memory.
Think of your favourite meal. You might be able to see it in your mind's eye as a singular, beautiful plate of food, but your brain is bringing all those elements together from a collection of thoughts spread throughout your brain. How it smells comes from one area, how it tasted from another, how it looked from another again, where they all coalesce and, voila, a memory is recalled.
When memories are first made, they all start off as short-term memories. Your brain takes all its cues from the senses associated with it; what it looks like, how it makes you feel, its taste, sound, smell and so on. Given the amount of information we take in on a daily basis, it also acts as a filter to disregard the stuff we don't need (so we forget it) and logging that we do. Try and remember what you had for lunch three weeks ago last Wednesday and you may struggle to remember, unless some memorable also occurred at the same time.
Once the memory is processed, all the important information is eventually moved into long term memory across different areas of the brain. This process occurs in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory functions. It also helps us differentiate between new memories and those that occurred in the past.
When a traumatic incident occurs, the hippocampus can, given all the information it has, struggle to process the memory properly and so doesn't confine it to long- term memory, causing it to be relived in the mind of the victim. It effectively becomes stuck in a loop. Rather than being processed, it comes back around again and again with the brain struggling to differentiate it from present and past memories.
Trauma affects people in different ways and PTSD can manifest itself a short time after the event or up to years afterwards. Those with PTSD will experience panic attacks, vivid nightmares and flashbacks to the traumatic event.
This constant negative cycle on the brain means that it changes how people with PTSD feel about themselves, sometimes leaving them incapable of exhibiting positive emotions. They become emotionally numb and develop a less effective memory. They can also quickly become irritable, angry and short-tempered as their emotions can be affected too. They can be easily startled and scared (known as an exaggerated startle response) by loud, unexpected noises like balloons popping, things falling, etc. Jumping up behind them and screaming "boo" is certainly not to be recommended either.
If that wasn't enough, they often have overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame, even if the incident wasn't of their making or fault.
Those with PTSD can also be susceptible to triggers that can occur without warning. These triggers can be anything that reminds them of the traumatic incident. They can occur from images they may see on TV, words they hear in conversation or read in a book or magazine. They can also begin to avoid anything that even remotely reminds them of the incident, such as people, places or situations. This is known as phobic avoidance.
They can also develop something known as psychological reactivity when confronted with reminders, even in the most innocuous surroundings. They will often become panicked, anxious, sweating, etc.
If any of this sounds familiar and you've experienced these symptoms for a month or more, you can be diagnosed with PTSD. You should arrange to see your doctor immediately.
Here's the part where we would like to put a definitive reason why some people get PTSD and others don't. Sadly we can't do that. Like almost all mental illnesses there simply isn't an easily identifiable cause.
PTSD, as the name suggests, is triggered by a traumatic event in someone's life. Of course, what you find traumatic and what I find traumatic may be very different.
Events can include serious road traffic accidents, violent assaults, prolonged sexual abuse, witnessing serious incidents or death (even if you aren't directly involved), surgery, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, etc. or even terrorist incidents. If you are (or were) in the armed forces and saw service in war up close and personal, then you may well have seen traumatic incidents quite regularly. The list, as always, can go on and it's not exclusive to those listed here.
If you suffer with PTSD, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.
Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with PTSD with our community so they can better understand how it feels, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.