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Blog: Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - how ready do you feel able to consult, advise, signpost and ultimately support patients through such an episode in their lives?    

Any of us can, without warning, be caught up in a traumatic event that is overwhelming, frightening, life-threatening (to ourselves or others) and beyond our control.  The term post-traumatic stress is relatively new. Cases of PTSD were first documented during the First World War when soldiers developed shell shock as a result of the harrowing conditions in the trenches. But the condition wasn't officially recognised as a mental health condition until 1980.

Take for example, receiving the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness - there are not many families, including my own who have not been touched by a diagnosis of cancer, think about how that impacted you as an individual but also in the wider spectrum of one's own family. 

How many of us have been a witness to or involved in the care of a patient from a serious road accident - we look after the patient, but who then looks after us?     

Hopefully, rarely in day to day life, but not unheard of, the unexpected injury or violent death of someone close occurs. Recent tragic events in Tunisia has brought both stories of tragedy but also heroic acts of people who had simply boarded a holiday flight the week before, at this time of year millions of people will be doing the same thing.  

Live tragic events unfold before us on every news channel - for me the bombing of the Sir Galahad remains a vivid memory from news reels of the time, a harrowing watch for anyone regardless of age or gender. For many the closest any of us have come to anything 'war like' was watching the antics of MASH (1972-1983) squadron dealing with 'life' on the front line as a medical detachment in the Vietnam War, although based on actual events, the true horror of such a war could not be fully appreciated when watching characters such as Major Hullihan (aka 'Hot Lips') or Captain Pierce and his counterpart Major Hunnicut causing hijinks in the field hospital with their homemade alcohol from the still in their tent.

Until recently being taken hostage, for example Terry Waite in 1987 in Beirut, dramatic and arguably life changing events, were isolated in nature but no less traumatic for Mr Waite and his family. Upon his release in 1991 there was undoubtedly counselling and support but does it go far enough? When the media frenzy has settled, when families are reunited and returning to 'normality', what does that actually mean?  Living with PTSD is a long-term event. We can all walk into a room, down a street, look at a building, another human being and have that déjà vu feeling - how does that translate itself when you have been a hostage, a victim, a prisoner or a survivor?

Within the community setting, the place where we are all healthcare professionals, I ask you - are we ready to consult, advise, signpost and ultimately support patients and their families through such an episode in their lives.  PTSD is becoming the white elephant in the room and we have no option but to be ready, but how to achieve it - that is the question?   


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: key facts: