Symptoms will vary from person to person, but often involve the sufferer ‘reliving’ the event to some extent through a combination of flashbacks and nightmares. Re-experiencing the trauma can lead to sleep problems, concentration difficulties, feelings of isolation and depression and a variety of additional symptoms. The severity and persistence of these symptoms will vary greatly from person to person. For some sufferers, symptoms will be interspersed with periods of remission and for others they will be constant and acute enough to considerably impact quality of life.
Some of the key symptoms of PTSD are outlined below:
Re-experiencing parts of the trauma. It is quite common for individuals with PTSD to relive parts of the event through vivid flashbacks and nightmares. It may be that something in everyday life such as a sound or image has triggered this response, or this may occur for no identifiable reason. Flashbacks, intrusive images, thoughts and nightmares can be extremely distressing for sufferers as they can make them feel as though the event is happening all over again, even if only for a brief moment.
Hypervigilance. Often, sufferers find that after a traumatic event they remain constantly alert and vigilant to potentially threatening events, and are extremely anxious and easily startled. This ‘hypervigilance’ can also come coupled with irritability, angry outbursts, aggressive behaviour, sleep problems and concentration difficulties.
Avoiding memories. Reliving a traumatic experience is extremely upsetting, so understandably some sufferers attempt to avoid anything and anyone which may trigger a response. Sufferers sometimes believe that feeling nothing at all is better than the negative and upsetting feelings they keep experiencing so will try to numb themselves emotionally. Avoiding situations, people, conversation, activities and thoughts that directly relate to the trauma or are a reminder of the trauma is a common reaction. Sufferers often try to keep themselves busy so that they don’t have time to think about the trauma and thus it becomes easier to repress those very difficult memories. Many sufferers will develop an extremely pessimistic outlook to life, losing interest in activates they once used to enjoy, disregarding the idea of making plans for the future, finding it difficult to keep or form close relationships and generally detaching themselves on both a physical and emotional level from others.
Other common symptoms and indicators of the condition include inexplicable physical symptoms such as; severe headaches, dizzy spells, upset stomach, sweating, the shakes and chest pains, as well as mental health problems such as depression, phobias and anxiety. PTSD is a mental health condition in itself and the symptoms and side effects experienced can result in a breakdown of personal relationships and work relationships which can lead to further distress and upset. As discussed in the above, a very common symptom of PTSD is avoiding memories and repressing emotions, so it is often friends, family members or colleagues who identify warning symptoms and signs of the condition before the actual sufferers themselves. PTSD is a very sensitive issue and often sufferers may feel uncomfortable opening up about their experiences and may not be able to recognise that they require extra support.