Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Despite decades of studies, limited understanding of the complexities faced by a person with haemophilia or other blood disorder is unfortunately still widely unknown. The unique psychological and social problems of living with the condition, which also has great impact on families has radically changed over the past twenty or so years. Anxiety for the risks of bleeding and the threat from complications caused by various infections transmitted within blood products has caused huge stress and presents great difficulty in coping with the situation. The psychological impact was felt across the haemophilia community in those who were infected as well as those who were not, which includes extended family members, relationships, work and where a person felt they fitted into society.
Most surviving infected haemophilia sufferers live with mental health issues which remain un-acknowledged and undiagnosed. They have faced decades of living in fear, copying with life threatening conditions, stigma, anxiety, discrimination and abandonment, feelings of low self-worth / self-esteem, hopelessness and despair. From childhood the impact of separation anxiety due to long periods in hospital, as well as the endurance of pain from bleeds, infections and treatments.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been around for thousands of years, but rather confusingly under many different names.
Previous terms for what we now call PTSD have included ‘shell shock’ during WWI, ‘war neurosis’ during WWII; and ‘combat stress reaction’ during the Vietnam War. It was in the 1980s that the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was introduced – the term we most commonly use today.
The first documented case of psychological distress was reported in 1900 BCE, by an Egyptian physician who described a hysterical reaction to trauma.
PTSD is essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event.
It’s worth pointing out that the majority of people exposed to traumatic events experience some short-term distress which resolves without the need for professional intervention although unfortunately the small proportion who do develop the disorder are unlikely to seek help. Instead most battle on despite their symptoms and their quality of life is likely to be substantially reduced; evidence suggests that around 70% of people who suffer with PTSD in the UK do not receive any professional help at all. The disorder also impacts upon loved ones, work colleagues and more widely too.
The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death.
Examples of traumatic events include:
- Serious accidents
- Being told you have a life-threatening illness
- Violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, burglary, robbery, or mugging
- Military combat
- House fires
- Natural or man-made disasters
- Terrorist attack
- Traumatic childbirth
- Prolonged bullying
- Childhood neglect
Your exposure to a traumatic event can happen in one or more of these ways:
- You experienced the traumatic event
- You witnessed, in person, the traumatic event
- You learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by the traumatic event
- You are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (for example, if you are a first responder to the scene of traumatic events)
At the time someone is being exposed to this intensely fearful situation, their mind ‘suspends’ normal operations and it copes as well as it can in order to survive. This might involve reactions such as ‘freezing to the spot’ or instead the opposite ‘flight away’ from the danger.
Until the danger passes the mind does not produce a memory for this traumatic event in the normal way. Unfortunately when the mind presents the memory for filing it can be very distressing. The memories such as the facts of what happened, the emotions associated with the trauma and the sensations touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, and smell can be presented by the mind in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive unwanted memories.
These re-experiences and flashbacks are a result of the mind trying to file away the distressing memory, but understandably can be very unpleasant and frightening because they repeatedly expose the sufferer to the original trauma.
The above information is to provide a brief description of the deeply complex circumstances faced by those living each day with the effects of PTSD. This short exert highlights the fantastic work provided by PTSD UK, who can be contacted for further information and support at www.PTSDUK.org
Haemosexual would like to send a huge “thank you” to Jacqui Suttie, Founder of PTSD UK, for her permission to use this information and her kind words of support.