Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that many people have suffered from at one time or another. If untreated, PTSD can lead people to indulging in addictive behaviors. For example, someone who was once a casual drinker may now have increased his alcohol consumption.
We hear all the time about soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Exposed to the horror of actual or threatened death or serious injury, they re-experience the trauma through not being able to stop thinking about it, flashbacks, nightmares or intense body reactions to certain situations. They report feeling numb, not interested in anything, depressed and having no sense of future. Symptoms may include difficulty sleeping, irritability and always being on guard. Many military and ex-military self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs and become addicted.
Recent research at McMaster University on trauma among Canadian civilians has confirmed what I and many other practitioners have known all along, that many people in the civilian population also suffer from post-traumatic stress. It is not just the veterans who get PTSD.
The researchers found that almost one in ten Canadians suffers post-traumatic stress some time in their lives. The researchers further estimate that 2.4 percent of us are suffering post-traumatic stress at any given time.
More that three quarters of the people who participated in the study reported experiencing at least one event that could cause PTSD; for example, sudden death of someone close, sexual assault or witnessing someone killed or badly injured.
Most people develop symptoms when traumatized, but for many people the trauma resolves and the symptoms disappear. For about nine percent of people, however, the symptoms they get after a traumatic experience continue. The trauma does not resolve by itself. They may require trauma-clearing therapy from an appropriate professional.
I was one of the many who self-medicated my trauma with alcohol.
People often increase their alcohol consumption to dull the symptoms of PTSD and eventually they become addicted. That was my route after I was separated from my children many years ago. Some go on disability for depression and anxiety. Some commit suicide. Marriages disintegrate.
Trauma is very common in life, and a number of factors increase the risk of the symptoms developing into full-blown PTSD. The severity of the trauma is a factor. For example, the death of your child would be more severe than the death of your cousin. Having previous trauma increases the risk of PTSD. Having good social supports reduces the risk.
Critical incident stress debriefing within a few days of a traumatic incident greatly reduces the risk of the symptoms growing into PTSD.
In my home province, Work Safe BC has a program of offering critical incident assessment and intervention free of charge to any BC business in which someone has been seriously injured or killed on the job, or put at risk of either.
I have personally taken part in a number of such interventions in the workplace. They work. Both individual and group debriefings reduce the risk of PTSD developing.
A bank is robbed. Six months later a loyal employee decides they made a poor career choice and quits. Some variety of this has happened so often that now the major banks have their own teams that automatically do an intervention after a robbery. It helps in heading off those potential losses of good employees.
I wonder how many more marriages would have survived the loss of a child, if families, family doctors, ministers and friends had engaged the parents in talking about the events of the death and their reactions. I wonder how many suicides might never have happened. I wonder how many fewer functioning alcoholics there would be among us.