Sunday, 18 November 2012

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I have just filled in a survey about the attitude to Combat Stress - another word for PTSD, or C-PTSD or shell shock or ....

As a psychologist, I know a thing or two about post-traumatic stress disorder - how it can come about and what potential treatment options there are. But does anybody really understand it? We can't explain why a group of soldiers will go through the same battle, see the same horrible scenes, but one or two of them will struggle later. It can catch up on them when they least expect it. You don't necessarily see it. And most of them won't talk about it.

I have met Northern Ireland veterans who are still on medication, all these years later. Who sometimes don't want to go to sleep because they know they will wake up in the night, sweating, feeling as if it had only just happened.

In the wake of the war in Afghanistan, PTSD is now a recognised condition, but many still doubt it exists. They still believe that all it requires is to "pull yourself together".

One of the questions in the survey was whether I believe there is a cure ... My honest answer: I don't know. Each case is different. Some will get over it if they can talk about it. Some will take medication and will otherwise lead a perfectly normal life. Others will continue to struggle.

There still is a stigma attached to PTSD / Combat Stress, which makes it difficult to talk about it for those who are affected. But I think there is also a growing awareness that there might be no cure. To some extent, no matter what treatment, people might still have to live with the consequences. So why talk about it? Why talk about it and risk a reaction that only shows a total lack of understanding?

I don't know the answers. But I would still urge those affected to talk - by NOT talking,
  • we will never know the full scope of the problem - we will continue to speculate:
  • you miss the chance to find out that there are others out there in the same situation (realising this can help!)
  • you won't realise that there are, indeed many people out there who would like to support and, at least, try to understand.
My favourite knock-out argument is: "You can't understand, you haven't been there, you haven't seen what I have seen." Though this is undoubtedly true, it would mean that I can talk about hardly anything, because there is so much I haven't experienced - hunger; neglegt; domestic violence; abortion; delinquency; prison - I have been lucky and have probably led a rather sheltered life. That doesn't mean I can't empathize; it doesn't mean I can't understand.

The biggest fear of those who don't talk might not be the fear of being misunderstood - it's the fear of living through it again. And who could blame them? Who could blame them for trying to lock it away?

If you have read until here, you will by now have guessed that the topic isn't new to me. I have friends who have been diagnosed with PTSD. Some have been medically discharged. Some have recovered.

When you are ready - I'm willing to listen. And there are others out there trained to listen and trained to help you make the next step.

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