10 July 2007

Crime can have long-lasting effects

While authorities are finally starting to address the crime problem in South Africa, many people are still scarred by their experiences. Read what CyberShrink users have to say.

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula recently admitted that instances of serious and violent crime are very high in South Africa, and that crime levels are unacceptable.

According to a national police report, murder increased by 2.4%, bank robberies by 118% and aggravated robbery by 4.6% between April 2006 and March 2007.

But while authorities are finally starting to address the problem, many South Africans are still scarred by their experiences. One of CyberShrink’s forum users was recently raped in a clinic, and now suffers from depression.

Another forum user can’t sleep because she’s worried that she may become a victim of crime.

Do you have a story to share? Do you need some emotional support? Then make use of our brand-new Crime Talk Forum.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
Being involved in an incident of violent crime carries a considerable risk of causing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some individuals. This disorder may occur after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event such as murder or physical assault.

It is normal to react to a traumatic event with symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, people are incredibly resilient, and in most cases, such symptoms will gradually subside over time. In a smaller group of people, symptoms persist.

A diagnosis of PTSD is likely if they also suffer from symptoms such as: shock, anger, fear, sleeplessness, repeated unwanted memories, dreams and flashbacks, alternating between being overwhelmed and numbed, and being in a constant state of hyperalertness and avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma.

Risk factors
Risk factors include personal history, poor coping skills, and lack of social support after the trauma. Repetitious exposure to traumatic events increases the risk for PTSD as seen in rescue workers, as does the development of survivor guilt in family members of victims.

Diagnosing PTSD requires a thorough evaluation of emotional symptoms by a trained person. The above-mentioned symptoms need to last longer than one month and be severe enough to affect daily life and responsibilities. In children and adolescents these symptoms will show in a different way.

Apart from PTSD, other disorders may develop after a traumatic event like depression, severe anxiety and substance abuse.

What to do
There is currently a debate about whether it is best to receive trauma counselling (debriefing) within 24 to 72 hours after an event by a suitably trained mental health professional.

Trauma debriefing usually involves short-term therapy (two to six session) and can prevent the development of PTSD.

Should traumatic stress symptoms persist beyond four to six weeks, therapy and medication may be necessary.

- (Health24, July 2007)

Read more:
Click here for the complete A-Z of PTSD
How to make kids crime-conscious


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