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About trauma, PTSD & C-PTSD

A note on the language & terminology we use


We know that language used around trauma can be tricky to navigate and different people like to use different terms. We wanted to briefly describe the following terms that we’ve chosen to use:

  • ‘traumatic event’ - an event or experience that causes trauma
  • ‘trauma’ - the impact of the traumatic event on the mind and body
  • ‘trauma survivor’ - someone who has had a traumatic experience, regardless of the traumatic event; we know that some people who experience trauma like to identify themselves as survivors, however we also recognise that not everybody does. Although we use the term trauma survivor, it's up to you how you choose to refer to yourself
  • ‘symptoms’ - the effects, challenges, reactions or responses that someone experiences after a traumatic event; we know that some people like to use the term symptoms because it helps them seperate the impact of the trauma from themselves, however others feel it’s too medicalised. Although we use the term symptoms, it's up to you how you choose to describe the effects of your trauma




How common is trauma and post-traumatic stress?


One in two of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime and one in ten will develop diagnosable PTSD*. One in every twenty-five people have PTSD at any given point in time. *there are a set of criteria for an official PTSD diagnosis, but you can still be struggling with the effects of trauma without an official diagnosis - we believe the number of people experiencing post-traumatic stress is likely to be higher




What is trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD?


Trauma is an emotional response to an event or series of events that are deeply distressing, stressful or frightening or threaten or cause physical or emotional harm to you or someone else. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and C-PTSD or Complex-PTSD are specific diagnoses you can be given if you are experiencing particular symptoms after a traumatic event. You can still be struggling with the effects of trauma without an official diagnosis.




What causes trauma and post-traumatic stress?


Trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD can be caused by one or many traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences can be single events or a series of repeat or prolonged events that happen over a period of time. Traumatic experiences can also be a series of multiple events, witnessing harm to somebody else or exposure to traumatic events through work, living in a traumatic atmosphere or being affected by trauma in a family or community. There are many examples of traumatic events, which include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Abuse, including domestic or emotional
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Bereavement by suicide
  • Childbirth experiences or losing a baby
  • Exposure to traumatic events through work
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Road traffic accident
  • Serious health problems
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • War, conflict or terrorism




What are the signs & symptoms of trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD?


Trauma can display a range of different symptoms and traumatic stress affects people in different ways, so no two people will experience it in exactly the same way even if they have very similar experiences. To get an official diagnosis of PTSD, these symptoms fall into four main categories and you must be experiencing a certain number of each type of symptom. The diagnosis for C-PTSD is similar but with additional symptoms. You may still be experiencing trauma, even if you don’t have an official diagnosis. Here are the symptoms of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms (at least one symptom)
    • Unwanted memories
    • Nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Feeling very upset by reminders of the experience
    • Physical responses to reminders of the experience
  • Avoidance (at least one symptom)
    • Avoiding reminders of the experience
    • Avoiding memories thoughts or feelings
  • Cognition and mood (at least two symptoms)
    • Difficulty remembering details of the experience
    • Blaming yourself or someone else
    • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
    • Negative beliefs about yourself, others or the world
    • Feeling distant or cut off from others
    • Overwhelming feelings of horror, guilt or shame
    • Trouble experiencing positive feelings
  • Arousal and reactivity (at least two symptoms)
    • Feeling jumpy or easily startled
    • Being “superalert”, watchful or on guard
    • Taking too many risks or doing things that could cause you harm
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Trouble falling or staying asleep
    • ​​Irritable behavior, angry outbursts, or acting aggressively
  • Additional C-PTSD symptoms
    • Difficulty controlling your emotions
    • Feeling like no one understands or as though you are completely different to others
    • Feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless
    • Struggling with or avoiding friendships or relationships
    • Experiencing dissociative symptoms such as depersonalisation or derealisation
    • Physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness or chest pains or physical health issues
    • Feeling very angry or distrustful of the world
    • Experiencing suicidal feelings
It’s common that someone who has experienced a traumatic event may not recognise their experience as such, or may not feel they are able to or that it’s valid to call it traumatic, compared to the experience of someone else. It’s also common that they may not relate the symptoms that they start to have with their traumatic experience. Sometimes people can be affected by a traumatic event straight away, and other times it may take years before people start to experience symptoms, this is called delayed onset trauma. Even if their symptoms do start soon after the incident, it may be years before some people identify their symptoms.




Who can be affected by trauma and post-traumatic stress?


Anyone can be affected by trauma at any time in their life, during childhood, adulthood or both. We don’t know exactly why some people develop trauma and others don’t, but we do recognise that there are some factors which make it more likely. These include, how much support you received at the time of the incident, your relationships and the emotional support system you have around you and whether or not anything else stressful is happening in your life at that point in time.




Does trauma exist alongside other mental or physical health conditions?


Trauma can be comorbid with a variety of other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Trauma survivors often experience physical symptoms or health problems too, the additional stress in the body means they may be at higher risk of conditions such as autoimmune diseases or even cancer. If you are worried about your mental or physical health, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional.




Someone I care about has been affected by trauma, what can I do?


If somebody you care about is struggling with trauma, PTSD or C-PTSD, then it can be really difficult for you too, but there are things you can do to help. These include:

  • listening to them without judgement
  • learning how trauma affects them
  • learning their triggers
  • don’t take over
  • respecting their privacy
  • helping them seek support




What professional support is available?


If you are struggling with trauma, PTSD or C-PTSD, then you should seek professional support. What helps can be different from one person to another, and can change over time. You should speak to your GP, local mental health services or you may want to seek private support. There are different types of therapy available, including talking therapy, trauma-focused CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and EMDR (Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) as well as body-based and arts therapies. There are also charities that provide support and information for particular traumatic experiences.




Where can I find more information?


You can find more information on trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD:

  • NHS Website
    • https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/overview/
  • PTSD UK
    • https://www.ptsduk.org/
  • Mind Charity
    • https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/about-ptsd/
    • https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/complex-ptsd/
    • https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/trauma/about-trauma/
There are also many charities that offer information and support on particular traumatic experiences.




Crisis information


If you are feeling upset or distressed or need to speak to somebody urgently, there are organisations who can help:

  • Samaritans - https://www.samaritans.org/
    • Call 116 123 (available 24/7)
    • Email jo@samaritans.org (24 hour response time)
  • Shout - https://giveusashout.org/
    • Text "Shout" to 85258 (available 24/7)
If you are concerned for your safety call 999 or go to your nearest A&E.




What are triggers?


Trauma survivors often find that symptoms can be brought on very suddenly and at any time by events outside of their control. These are called triggers. Triggers can include loud noises, crowded places or something someone says. Like the symptoms they experience, triggers are unique to the individual. Learning and understanding your triggers can help you manage your symptoms.




What happens in the short-term after a traumatic event?


If you've experienced something traumatic, it's normal to have reactions and responses (symptoms) that you may not have experienced before in the days and weeks afterwards. This is sometimes called an "acute stress reaction". Often these symptoms will go away on their own after a few weeks, but if after a month you're still experiencing them, you might be given a diagnosis of PTSD or C-PTSD. To get a diagnosis, you must seek advice from a healthcare professional.





References

PTSD UK - https://www.ptsduk.org/
Mind - https://www.mind.org.uk/

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