How to spot the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not something we usually talk about in everyday conversation. PTSD is most associated with soldiers returning from conflict or people who have experienced harsh trauma or abuse, yet it’s actually a medical condition that can affect anyone. In fact, according to this report, a web-based study revealed that the lockdown in India has had a negative impact on many people’s psychological states. The survey, conducted by the Department of Community Medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, showed that almost 28% of its respondents suffered from PTSD during the 2020’s lockdown. 

In India, persistent economic inequalities and environmental woes, such as manmade and natural disasters, constantly put a strain on its citizens’ mental health. All of us will experience some kind of trauma during our lifetimes, such as a serious accident, sudden death of a loved one or physical or psychological abuse, and research reveals that 20% of people exposed to trauma will go on to develop PTSD.

What are PTSD symptoms?

People with PTSD are suffering from the long-term effects of a traumatic experience, and this can take many forms. When discussing the science behind PTSD in her TED Talk, psychologist Joelle Maletis outlines common symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares and negative thoughts that interfere with everyday life. However, these can vary in severity from one person to the next and can be made worse when a PTSD sufferer comes into contact with certain situations or people.

Specific reminders of a past trauma, which are referred to as ‘triggers’, can include smells, sounds, sensations or words. In addition, some people might find significant dates, such as the anniversary of a traumatic experience, harder to navigate.

Know PTSD warning signs

If you think you or someone you know might have PTSD, it’s important to make a note of triggers in order to avoid them where possible, but also to come up with coping strategies that can make difficult moments more manageable.

Support someone with PTSD by allowing them to talk through their feelings at their own pace. Be patient, don’t make assumptions about how they might feel and try to listen without judgment. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the warning signs that someone is struggling with PTSD so that you can offer support when they need it most. These can include:

  • A change in mood, such as getting angry or upset

  • A change in productivity, whether at work or in their personal life

  • A change in energy levels, this can range from being unable to concentrate to being hyper-alert to what’s happening around them

Be aware there are also several factors that mean some people have a higher risk of developing PTSD, including pre-existing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and physical conditions like chronic pain. 

What to do if you or someone you know has PTSD

Even if several years have passed since the original trauma, it’s possible to treat PTSD and manage some of the symptoms. If you or a family member are coming to terms with an anxiety-related condition, or have received a PTSD diagnosis, the following steps could help:

Get creative 

There are a number of artistic therapies that can help someone express themselves in a different way. These include dance-movement therapy and drama therapy, in which invented characters and improvised scenes provide an outlet for exploring difficult feelings. For children and young people, guided play sessions led by a therapist can help them process traumatic memories.

Support your mental health

Counseling or talking therapies can address a range of mental health conditions, while trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. In addition, research suggests that expressive writing or journaling helps people learn to better regulate their emotions. Meanwhile, practicing mindfulness and using meditation apps can have a range of calming benefits, including teaching people to exist in the present moment. 

… and your physical health

Physical activity such as running and cycling can reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms, so embrace regular exercise. In addition, yoga can regulate a person’s heart rate, encourage deep breathing and restore the nervous system, all of which can alleviate the stress associated with emotional trauma.

Focus on the present

Some people find carrying an object that reminds them of the present (as opposed to the past and their trauma) can help ground them during a flashback. Other grounding techniques include describing your surroundings and repeating a phrase or saying that makes you feel safe – this coping strategy is often referred to as self-soothing.

Be proactive

Illness can strike at any time and in order not to be caught off guard, it’s important to have good health insurance. Choose a health insurance plan wisely to ensure you can access good medical care without a heavy financial burden to add to your stress. All Future Generali’s health insurance products cover mental illnesses at par with physical illnesses. 

With the right coping strategies in place, the symptoms of PTSD can be managed, while at the same time building resilience that can be applied to difficult situations in the future. 

If you are concerned about PTSD, seek support immediately. Your GP will be able to offer advice and suggest suitable treatments. There are slo many useful online resources that give you access to psychologists and psychiatrists. Organizations such as NIMHANS and Therapeute offer guidance and therapy for those dealing with psychological issues.