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PTSD awareness day: How education and compassion could save a life

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The mind is a wonderful place, but it also has the ability to take us somewhere harrowingly dark. When we go through a trauma, somethings shifts in our mind, you begin to be flooded with anguish, pain, and fear – like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole, falling into darkness with that feeling that you won’t ever hit the bottom, or the fear of what will happen when you do.

When you experience trauma, no matter the cause, the impact on the soul is heart breaking. You can become hypervigilant, afraid of your own shadow and your mind can even warp your reality, leaving you with twisted versions of stories and not trusting your own thoughts.

This is living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known as PTSD – and it has a huge impact on people’s lives and their loved ones. So, as it is PTSD awareness month, what better time to talk about how we can help and raise awareness so that people’s battles are less lonely.

In the time I have spent so far, surrounded by opinions and platforms of people speaking out about mental health, listening to professionals talk about what they think helps, I have noticed that more often than not, as a society we tend to gloss over PTSD because we are afraid to talk about what causes it.

Trauma. Or the T word as I have heard so many times before, as though it’s some sort of outrageous word that must only be whispered or spoken about behind closed doors.

We need to end this stigma, because if we don’t become more open about the causes of PTSD and the distress it places on one’s life, the impact will be devastating – and those who have it, have already suffered enough.

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Once I was in a group therapy session, and one girl said something along the lines of – ‘I don’t feel like what happened to me was traumatic enough for me to now have PTSD, like it’s not like I went to war’. This still resonates with me today, because I still hear it, people feeling as though there is a scale to trauma, like one is not so bad and ten means your life gets to fall apart – as though anyone has any control in how their mind reacts.

People need to understand, that this, is just not the case.

If you go through something that has an impact on your mind, body, and soul – then whatever you feel about that and however your body reacts, is justified. From serving in the war to being a victim of sexual assault, from being in an accident to witnessing a horrific event – PTSD is the result of many different lived experiences and we have to be more aware and accepting of this as a society because the alternative is just to grave.

It’s impossible to reach out for support if you believe that your feelings aren’t justified, so it’s important to give people spaces where there is no shame placed on how they feel and to change the narrative on how we talk about trauma and PTSD.

Around 50% of people will go through a trauma at some point in their lives and around 20% of those people develop PTSD. In the UK, that’s 6,6555,000 people and half of them go undiagnosed – which means they also go untreated and unsupported because of the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds this condition.

PTSD (usually but not always as no one person experiences things the same) causes 4 different groups of symptoms:

  • reliving the traumatic event perhaps in the form of flashback, nightmares or intrusive memories (also called re-experiencing or intrusion)
  • avoiding situations that are a reminder of the event
  • negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • feeling hypervigilant and fearful to people and the world around you (also called hyperarousal).

There is also another type of PTSD, called ‘Complex PTSD’ also known as C- PTSD; this is usually the result of repeated traumas and presents in ways like PTSD but with some additional more distressing symptoms – You can find out more about C-PTSD specifically here. For the purpose of the remainder of this article, when i talk about PTSD, I also mean C- PTSD.

Those who suffer from PTSD have a very different interaction in daily life, than those who don’t. The hyperarousal symptom causes people to have a disproportionate response to stimuli, for example, if someone ran up behind you and gave you a fright you would probably be startled and turn around. However, those with PTSD are more likely to have a much more severe reaction – such as jumping to a different location, an increased heart rate, clenched fists and ready to meet an imaginary threat.

PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by the brain ‘suspending’ normal function during a traumatic situation. It causes a huge variety of life-altering and intrusive symptoms and so PTSD can cause substantial distress and disruption of social, personal, and occupational functioning, which in turn can cause major problems in relationships and jobs.

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No one should ever feel as though what they went through doesn’t justify their mind and body’s reaction  – to feel as though the world is closing in on them and there’s nowhere to turn.

Sadly, in today’s society, this is happening all too often and what is worse, is that there are effective treatments for PTSD and C-PTSD but stigmatisation and fear of discussing trauma, stops people from reaching out.

Together, we need to create a more inclusive and open society – one where no matter your experiences, and reactions to said experiences, you are seen, heard, and supported because without this too many incredible lives will fall through the cracks.

So educate yourself, please – it could save a life.

PTSD UK is the only charity in the UK that is dedicated to raising awareness of PTSD –  it’s causes, symptoms, and treatments available, no matter the trauma that caused it.

Please visit Why PTSD UK is here – PTSD UK to find out how you can show your support and learn something new that could be life-changingly beneficial to someone else.

To those of you who may be struggling with the symptoms mentioned in the latter and are apprehnesive about asking for help, what you are feeling is valid and your life is worth so much more than the opinions of small minded people – you can get through this.

See the links below for more information and resources on how to get support and treatment:

Feature image credit: lighthousecouncelling.com

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