What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that develops after you experience something extremely traumatic, like violence, abuse, rape, neglect or a life-threatening situation. It can also affect you if you witnessed something terrible happening, like a serious car accident. In South Africa, we have very high rates of violent crime, gender-based violence and road accidents, which means that South African’s are at high risk for developing PTSD. Most people take time to get over a traumatic event, but in PTSD, you can’t move past the event and carry on having dreams, flashbacks or upsetting thoughts about it.
PTSD symptoms can appear straight after a traumatic experience or only start later on. They’re usually noticed within 6 months of the experience.

General symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks or nightmares about the traumatic events
  • Avoidance and numbing, where you try to keep busy and avoid thinking about it
  • Being tense and on guard all the time in case it happens again
  • Anxiety
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping or eating
  • Survivor’s guilt, where you feel bad because others suffered more than you, or because you survived while others did not
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches

How does PTSD affect young people? 

The symptoms of PTSD can have very negative and far reaching impacts on the lives of young people, in terms of their education or careers as well as their personal relationships. PTSD is not something that will get better on its own. If you have PTSD you need to receive treatment from a mental health professional, and the longer you go without treatment the more serious your symptoms may become.

Can PTSD be treated?

PTSD can be treated, and effective treatments include different types of psychotherapy (talk therapy) or medication. If you think you may have PTSD the first step is to see a mental health professional so that they can make a formal diagnosis. They can then advise you on treatment options based on your specific needs.

Trauma-focused psychotherapies are often used for treating PTSD. “Trauma-focused” means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. These treatments use different techniques to help you process your traumatic experience in a safe space. If you also experience depression or anxiety, you may be prescribed medication to help manage and improve those symptoms. Recovery from PTSD may be a lengthy process, so it is important to give yourself time and be patient with yourself throughout your recovery.

Where can I get help?

You can talk to someone you trust and are comfortable with for help. There are many general practitioners (GP's) and other health professionals that can help with your recovery. Many of them have worked with young people who have experienced trauma and will be able to help you deal with the stress and help you with recovery.
If you don't have a medical aid or insurance a good place to start might be your local community clinic or day hospital, or you might want to talk with a trusted friend, teacher, Elder or family member about someone they can recommend.
Remember that you won’t need to talk about the details of the experience unless you feel completely comfortable and safe.

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