The truth about PTSD
90% of people with PTSD (or PTSI) haven’t been to war, they’re survivors of abuse and assault, car accidents, natural disasters and other forms of trauma.
PTSD is a serious mental health issue that affects the everyday lives of people who suffer from it. However, it isn’t talked about much, and when it is it’s often assumed that only military personnel or veterans suffer from PTSD, but they’re not the only ones.
We aren’t certain exactly why PTSD happens but some theories say it could be the brain's way of trying to keep us better prepared next time something happens. After going through something traumatic stress reactions are normal, and the brain can heal fully after a few weeks or months.
PTSD is when these feelings don’t go away and it can last for months or even years, this is when it becomes a problem as we don’t need to keep thinking about the event constantly as it can have a serious impact on our lives.
What is it like to have PTSD?
Flashbacks are what most people think of when PTSD is brought up, these can come out of nowhere or be triggered by a sound or something else that reminds the person of the event/s. People who live with PTSD can also experience a number of other symptoms:
- Insomnia or nightmares (often but not always relating to the traumatic event/s).
- Trouble concentrating.
- Avoiding thoughts, feelings, locations, and people associated with the traumatic event/s (isolation).
- Flashbacks, or the sensation that the event is happening again.
- Inability to enjoy old hobbies.
- Low mood.
People with PTSD aren’t dangerous. Aggression and psychosis are not symptoms of this disorder, and although movies may display people suffering from PTSD as “crazy” - this is not a diagnosis but rather a stigmatising and damaging label.
Are flashbacks hallucinations?
The short answer is no. Flashbacks are “intrusive memories”, meaning they really happened - they’re not made up, whereas hallucinations are perceiving something as real that never happened, like a sound or visual. However, flashbacks aren’t always like the ones seen in movies, people may not always experience a visual but may feel everything they felt when it happened - the fear, panic and stress. They might also experience it with their other senses, hearing or feeling things that happened in the past.
How to help someone
Remember, everyone's experience with PTSD is different. Some people with PTSD say they feel that nobody understands them - but the more time they spend alone the less they feel like others will get what they’re going through.
Getting into this cycle of isolation can be particularly damaging - with any mental disorder it's important to know that nobody has to go through it alone, so if you feel that someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, it can be really helpful to gently reach out to them - let them know you’re there to talk if they need to.
How to seek help
Anyone can call any of New Zealand's free helplines - visit www.pmgt.org.nz/directory/#mental-health-directory for a list of mental health-specific ones. The people there can give advice on what to do and what your next step can be, these organisations are here to support people, it's okay to ask for help.
And remember there are others who understand the feelings PTSD can bring. Talking to people with similar experiences can really help you feel seen and understood. It shouldn’t be substituted for professional help but can be a great resource alongside it as it can help you work through any feelings such as shame, guilt, and fear.