PTSD does not only affect soldiers

Unfortunately, there will be times when we may experience situations and circumstances which can be incredibly traumatic. For example, the emotional dropout of survivors of physical or emotional abuse, victims of road traffic accidents –may not only affect just the victim and any other person who may have been injured, but it can also affect their families, friends and any witnesses to their distress.

An example could be with the recent hurricanes and floods affecting hundreds of thousands of people across many islands in the Caribbean. Whilst Trinidad and Tobago might not have been directly affected, many of us can either relate to the effects of experiencing trauma or a traumatic event that is beyond one’s control.

It was not until the 1980s that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was officially recognised and now the global media speak a lot about it in the context of ex-military personnel and veterans involved in combat or conflict, but it is not a condition that only affects soldiers involved in large-scale disasters experience.

It is believed that one in three people who have a traumatic experience go on to be affected by PTSD because it is possible for other significant incidents, such as natural disasters or small, out of the ordinary situations such as road traffic accidents and personal assaults and attacks, or even the sudden unexpected death of a loved one to cause shock and disbelief that can go on to trigger episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after an incredibly overwhelming, distressing, frightening or stressful event. Such as events where you witness others in severe distress, with serious injuries or dying, or where your own life has been threatened or in danger.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Reliving aspects of the event that happened
  • Having vivid flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thought
  • Feeling on anxious and on edge
  • Panicking when reminded of the trauma, disturbed sleep, loss of concentration
  • Avoiding feelings or memories
  • Keeping busy, avoiding any reminders of the event, being emotionally numb
  • Cognitive and mood distortions
  • Not feeling able to trust others, feeling unsafe, blaming yourself, negative self-thoughts
  • In addition to feelings of sadness, anger, guilt or shame

PTSD varies in severity from mild, moderate to severe. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop chronic or acute PTSD, and generally people will be affected in the immediate aftermath of the event (usually within three months) and will go on to improve over time. But there are others for which their symptoms do not appear until years after, or those who go on to develop complex PTSD and struggle with disabling effects.

The disorder is never cut and dry which is why it can be incredibly difficult to self-diagnose, as a result, the severity of the diagnosis relates to the effect and impact the symptoms have on the quality of life. At times, it can be extremely difficult to “see the woods for the trees” where you don’t know that you’re experiencing the adverse affects of an earlier trauma but for anyone feeling concerned, it is highly advisable to seek help and support as the condition can be successfully treated through a range of interventions.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at

She writes a weekly column for Newsday called Better Lives, Better Living.

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