08 July 2005

Disaster ups PTSD risk

As many as 50 people died in the London bombings, leaving many families bereaved. But many others may also have to deal with the ongoing emotional trauma caused by such an event.

Bomb blasts in London on 7 July 2005 brought death and disruption to the city. As many as 50 people lost their lives. Many others, who witnessed these events, could also be traumatised.

Trauma such as this carries a considerable risk of causing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some individuals - a disorder that may occur after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event.

Previous large-scale disasters seem to point out that the impact of a disaster of this kind can have big emotional consequences. It is normal to react to an event of this magnitude 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.

It you think you might be suffering from PTSD, speak to your doctor or a mental health practitioner as effective treatment is available.


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