As part of our celebration of 25 years in practice, Dr. Gillian Moore-Groarke, Consultant Psychologist, cordially invites you to our free public lecture series. Our first lecture “Mindfulness – Healing and Well-being” was presented to a full house by Mr. Timothy Sweeney on Thursday, 2 April 2015, at The Kingsley, Cork. Our next lecture, titled “A Post Trauma Observed” will be given by Ms. Audrey O’Carroll, who will speak about an attempt on her life and the subsequent trauma that she endured. The lecture will be presented at The Deane Suite, The Kingsley, Cork, at 8pm on Thursday, 3 September 2015. While the lecture is free, early booking is essential.
P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is “a debilitating mental disorder that follows experiencing or witnessing an extremely traumatic, tragic or terrifying event. People with PTSD usually have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to.” It is generally agreed that the event must be life threatening to be capable of evoking PTSD. Such an event could include war, rape, torture, kidnapping, or a natural disaster. Many life events such as divorce can be thought of as extremely stressful, but this type of stress does not generally lead to the person developing PTSD. Only a small number of people who experience trauma go on to develop PTSD. The most common causes of PTSD are sexual, emotional or physical abuse, combat exposure or severe accidents such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods. It is important to note that anybody can develop PTSD during their lifetime, including young children.
PTSD first came into focus following World War I, when it was commonly referred to as ‘shell shock.’ A huge percentage of the surviving soldiers who fought in the trenches came home to their families with severe psychological symptomatology. Symptoms included terrifying nightmares, hypervigilance, and flashbacks. However, the returning soldiers received no sympathy from society. They were expected to show no weakness. “Survivors had no choice, but to acknowledge that their reputations as soldiers and men had been dealt a severe blow.”
PTSD can be misdiagnosed as depression or psychosis. Alcohol and substance abuse is frequently used as a coping strategy and can mask the true cause of a depressive or psychotic episode. The incidence of substance abuse being combined with PTSD is around the range of 10-20%. Management of the condition can include building coping skills, teaching stress and anger management and prescribing medication where absolutely necessary.
The following steps show how the brain reacts to a traumatic event.
- The individual responds to a threat and the brain send out signals of trauma. The brain’s main function is to get through the event.
- The brain causes adrenaline to be released, which activates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline causes physical changes in the body through the sympathetic nervous system such as increased heart rate and pulse.
- The brain lowers the chemicals of normal function. The effect of this causes digestion to be suppressed.
- Other hormones are released to rein in the stress hormones to prevent long term damage from occurring.
- With all this activity going on in the brain, it is necessary for the brain to re-calibrate itself. The brain takes the information learned from the trauma and makes a strategy to deal with the trauma in the event of further exposure. It is this re-calibration that becomes a problem for people suffering from PTSD.
- The part of the brain that stores emotions is known as the amygdala. This expands in people with PTSD with the result that it does not function correctly, causing the person to be overly emotional.
- Loss of function in the hippocampus is another physiological change that occurs with PTSD. This is an important part of the brain in terms of memory. It shrinks and doesn’t accurately record events. Severe time distortion can occur due to the shrinking of the hippocampus.
Treatment options advocated for PTSD
There are two main therapeutic avenues that professionals utilise to treat PTSD. These are cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques. CBT is a way of talking about how you think about yourself, the world and other people, and is also concerned with how your actions affect your thoughts and feelings. During therapy, professionals will attempt to help the person to heal by:
- Changing the client’s perception of himself or herself, and then their perception of other people and how they view the world around them.
- Change in the client’s reaction from the reactive stress to thoughtful consideration.
- Give the client the tools to self-heal, which promotes resilience.
Exercise has been shown to be very effective in helping PTSD recovery. Increased oxygen intake during exercise has been shown to encourage cell development and regeneration of neurons. It is imperative that the affected person receives support from family, friends, support groups and educational programmes.
- PTSD is a serious anxiety disorder that can affect any person at any point in their lives if they are exposed to acute or chronic trauma.
- PTSD is a very real illness and must be taken seriously by the victim’s family and by society at large. Affected persons must be given adequate social support to assist them in overcoming their fears.
- Help is available for those affected by PTSD. There are many effective treatments designed to alleviate this disorder and restore the person’s quality of life.
- An adult or a child who has been exposed to acute or chronic trauma should seek professional help immediately. Early intervention can significantly reduce the likelihood of PTSD developing or of symptoms persisting long-term.
- The affected person should look to their family, friends, and community services in order to assist them in recovery.
Dr. Gillian Moore Groarke – 25 years in practice