Lestat’s Research Guide: PTSD (in adults)
After doing a lot of research on PTSD for a character, I decided to summarise and share everything I had found out, so others could make use of it, too.
Note: everything in this guide is based on research. I have no personal experience with PTSD. If you believe something in this guide is incorrect or that I have left something important out, please send me a message and I’ll change/add it. (And credit you, of course)
WHAT IS PTSD?
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a disorder that can potentially develop after going through something traumatic. This doesn’t necessarily have to be something that happened to you, one can also develop PTSD after dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event (e.g. emergency workers) or if a close relative or friend has gone through something horrible. In general, PTSD can develop when you feel “helpless and hopeless” after an event.
Not everyone who has experienced something traumatic develops PTSD. It’s common for people to show signs of PTSD, such as, but not limited to nightmares, anxiety and flashbacks, after a traumatic event. This does not mean that this person has PTSD. These are regular reactions to something bad happening. One speaks of PTSD when the symptoms, which would usually last up to a few weeks, do not go away or decrease.
“A normal response to trauma becomes PTSD when you become stuck.”¹
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD can be of a sudden onset, as well as arise gradually or come and go over time. Sometimes they appear years after the traumatic event, other times after months or even just a few weeks. However, in general the symptoms of PTSD will start within three months after the trauma.
The main symptoms of PTSD can be sorted into three groups:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event
- Avoidance and numbing
- Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event
People with PTSD often re-live the event. This can happen through flashbacks or dreams, and often feel extremely real, as if it’s actually happening. Not only does it look real (they experience and see things in their minds), all the sensations that are linked to re-living the event (emotional as well as physical sensations like pain, fear, smells, sounds, etc.) feel real, too.
The smallest and most ordinary things can trigger a flashback. A good example I came across: if someone had a car accident while it was rainy, a rainy day could be enough to trigger a flashback².
Someone who’s reminded of something relating to the traumatic event that caused their disorder will often feel distressed, afraid, helpless and extremely anxious. They will have also physical reactions to reminders, e.g. sweating, an increased heart rate, and shallow and rapid breathing.
2. Avoidance and numbing
People suffering from PTSD will avoid anything that could remind them of the trauma and/or trigger a flashback. This includes everything from talking and thinking about the event to avoiding certain activities, places or people. Sometimes people try to find distraction by burying themselves in an interest, hobby or job. However, people with PTSD will usually lose interest in activities they used to like, as well as life in general.
Often, the victim will feel emotionally numb and detached from the world around them. They will not be as talkative and lively as they used to be. This can be a conscious choice, as a way to cope with the pain and distress, as well as a reaction that “just happened”. It might become difficult for them to maintain relationships, as they will communicate less with others in general and will be less invested in trying to uphold relationships. Aside from this, it is also common that traumatised people feel hopeless about their future. For example, they might believe that they will die prematurely or will never get married and be successful.
Additionally, people suffering from PTSD will often have trouble concentrating in general. Remembering important details of the trauma might prove to be difficult, too, even when they try to remember the event, which they are not likely to do of their own accord. If they do remember the experience well, they are usually unable to talk about it.
3. Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
These symptoms are mostly constant, as opposed to the symptoms belonging to the other two groups, which are usually triggered.
When suffering from PTSD, people are constantly in a hypervigilant state.hypervigilance /hy·per·vig·i·lance/ (hi″per-vij´ĭ-lans): abnormally increased arousal, responsiveness to stimuli, and scanning of the environment for threats.
This means that they will be anxious, jumpy, and easily startled. Often they will have trouble sleeping and concentrating, and it’s not uncommon that their anxiety goes hand in hand with irritability and sudden outburst of anger.
Other symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Substance abuse
- Other kinds of self-destructive behaviour
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Intense feeling of guilt, shame and/or self-blame
- Physical aches and pains
- Irregular heartbeats
- Feelings of panic and/or fear
- The feeling of being alienated and alone
- Social anxiety
- Specific fears
- Lack of appetite
- Memory and cognition problems
- Other problems of physical and/or mental health
It is not the case that everyone with PTSD will suffer from all these symptoms. Sometimes people only experience these symptoms in times of stress. In other cases, especially when it comes to severe PTSD, the symptoms can be constant and can get in the way of living life as usual. It is not uncommon that people don’t realise they have PTSD, and therefore don’t seek help.
WHEN DOES SOMEONE DEVELOP PTSD?
Although it’s impossible to say when someone will or will not develop PTSD, there are certain factors that make it more likely.
In general, the likelihood of developing PTSD is greater when your own life or safety has been threatened, or intentional and human-afflicted harm is involved, as opposed to disasters caused by, for example, the forces of nature. PTSD is likely to be more severe when the trauma was particularly unexpected and uncontrollable and left the victim feeling especially helpless.
More factors³ that could increase the chance of developing PTSD are:
- Previous traumatic experiences
- Family history of PTSD/depression
- History of physical/sexual abuse
- History of substance abuse
- History of depression/anxiety/other mental illnesses
- High level of stress in every day life
- Lack of support after the trauma
- Lack of coping skills
According to new research, chewing can reduce anxiety and stress levels. This relief can occur almost immediately, and therefore chewing gum is a good remedy for decreasing some of the acute symptoms of PTSD. It doesn’t help in the long run, seeing as it tackles the symptoms and not the cause, but it’s a useful way to help to calm someone down.
- Source: MonkeysMindkey (As well as: [x] [x])
Note 1: Source of quote
Note 2: Source of example
Note 3: These factors have been directly copied from this site