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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological and physical condition that is caused by very frightening or distressing events. People who have gone through a traumatic experience may struggle with upsetting emotions, frightening memories or a sense of constant danger that they just can’t kick. They may feel numb, disconnected and unable to trust other people.
Up to 30 per cent of people who experience a traumatic event suffer from PTSD and it can take a long time to get over the pain and feel safe again. Common triggers of the condition include serious road accidents, violent deaths, violent personal assaults and terrorist attacks. It can also occur in any other situation where a person feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness.
The Chilean miners who have just been rescued after being trapped for days could find themselves suffering from PTSD. Dr Alex Yellowlees, the director of the Priory Hospital in Glasgow and a consultant psychiatrist, said:
“These guys have gone to hell and back in many respects, and having had the acute stress response when the tragedy struck and they realized they were stuck they will have felt panic. Then they managed to organize themselves and now they have been rescued how are they going to cope emotionally and mentally? Most of them will get back to their normal selves but some will develop PTSD.”
Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks. They may also have sleep problems and have trouble concentrating. They can also feel isolated and detached. These symptoms are often persistent and severe enough to have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life.
The condition is a mental health condition that first came to prominence during the First World War after soldiers suffered harrowing experiences in the trenches. Their condition became known as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. It has only recently been accepted that traumatic events outside of war situations have similar effects:
“Some of the miners may get clinically depressed and it’s important that they are offered the right kind of help so that they can recover,” Dr Alex explained to The Hour. “There is a belief that everyone who has been through a trauma needs to have counselling but that’s not always the case. It’s important that they are offered the opportunity to do that but it might not be the best thing for all of them.
“Warning signs may be panic attacks or reliving the event over and over. Sometimes events in later life can trigger a flashback, which has to be looked out for.”
A number of different treatments are available to treat people with PTSD. These include psychological treatment - such as cognitive behavioural therapy - or desensitisation and reprocessing. Medication can also be highly effective.