Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Grief

21/12/2021 0 By Helen Bowler
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Grief

PTSD and Grief

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and grief.

It is becoming more widely accepted and understood that post-traumatic stress (PTSD) can be triggered by grief, some experiences like the death of a loved one, including that of a pet can cause PTSD, especially if the death has been tragic or sudden.

PTSD has been recognised since the 1980’s to describe the symptoms of those exposed to a traumatic event. Figures reveal that one fifth of people who have suffered a traumatic event will go on to develop symptoms of PTSD and although symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, they can sometimes begin years afterwards.

In order to be able to help and assist someone it has to be recognised as a PTSD case. Normally but not exclusively the sufferer will have been left grieving after a traumatic event or death and after a continuing period of more than two months the patient will still be experiencing great feelings related to grief.

There are recognisable symptoms that help with the diagnosis of PTSD

Intrusion Symptoms
The experience of intrusive memories is possible when someone is going about their normal daily lives but just cannot stop themselves thinking about the traumatic experience. This might just be fragments of it or replaying the whole memory.
Traumatic nightmares can also become a problem. These are the nightmares that usually feel very unpleasant, disturbing and real at the time. They may wake you suddenly, feeling startled and confused by where you actually are, with your heart racing, feeling very upset, although you may not always be able to remember your dream.

Flashbacks (Dissociative reactions) can occur when the traumatic experience was impossible to either escape or defend, also referred to as the fight or flight responses. With experiences like this our brain/body system automatically goes into shutdown (freeze) response which involves numbing or immobilisation. Flashbacks can become a common experience for people who have suffered this way and although the traumatic experience was in the past, it can feel as though it is happening all over again. Sometimes these flashbacks can be mistaken for an epileptic fit as they can cause black outs and the person experiencing it can lose temporary consciousness of their surroundings.

There can be uninvited reminders of the trauma that continue for to linger on for longer periods of time, these can trigger a range of emotions including anger, sadness, shame, guilt and more.

When people are reminded of their traumatic experience it can have a very real effect on the body and how it reacts. These can also go on for some time and may include sweating, breathing difficulties, palpitations, headaches and more.

Persistent avoidance
There are occasions when people may find that they cannot cope with re-experiencing any thoughts or feelings related to their experience at all. They may avoid talking about it or become jovial as a tactic to avoid any real and deeply disturbing emotions. They may try to detach themselves from the impact that the experience has had or they could be using distraction techniques to try and avoid or block intrusive thoughts.

It is understandable that many people will avoid places, situations and possibly people, objects and situations that remind them of their traumatic event. This is a coping response, but can lead to further problems of isolated and lonely lives.

Negative alterations in cognition and mood
It is possible that for many people their traumatic event can be so overwhelming that they dissociate themselves from it. The most unbearable aspects of the event are pushed to the far back of their mind so that they cannot be recalled so easily. It is important to work through this as those memories can still have a negative impact on the physical body.

Traumatic experiences can have an impact on how people feel about the world, other people and even themselves. They may be struggling to come to terms with their own actions or those of others. This need to be recognised that it has come from the trauma suffered and isn’t incorrectly diagnosed as depression. It is easy to blame oneself for the traumatic event that has occurred, this self-blame can be difficult to overcome.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity
People can find that they have problems with concentration, that their memory is impaired as their brain is
re-occupied by the traumatic event. They may find that they forget things, lose track of conversations or find it hard to concentrate on a film or book.

They may feel tense or on edge. The brain can be put into a state of high alert from the trauma experienced, that was possibly vital at the time to avoid more danger, but this can continue afterwards.
People can often find it hard to sleep, either struggling to fall asleep or waking frequently. Sleep deprivation can then lead to further issues with other emotions such as irritability and concentration.

They may experience angry outbursts. Peoples level of tolerance is much lower when their brain is under constant arousal as a consequence of trauma and they may find themselves more irritable or even aggressive that how they had been before their experience.

Treatments and Therapies
Antidepressants may help with controlling PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger and the feeling of numbness inside. Other medication may help with sleep problems and nightmares.
Psychotherapy (“talk” therapy) can also be helpful for some people or possibly a mixture of medication and therapy. It can depend on the person, and what treatment is recommended by the mental health provider.

References used;
The Cotswold Centre For Trauma Healing
NIMH National Institute of Mental Health
Cruse Bereavement Care
Gulf Bend Centre

If you are worried about a family member please seek help. There are many resources available not only the places mention above but also the following charity organisations, or your local GP.

If you wish to keep a gratitude journal, Memories Box recommends;

To create your own Memories Box