WHAT’S THE FUSS ABOUT PTSD

Don’t get me wrong, this used to be my reaction any time I heard people talk about PTSD. In the first place I thought PTSD happened only to war Veterans – and in my opinion most of them are weirdoes anyway. Well my perception changed drastically when my colleague Ama was diagnosed with PTSD.  Well here is Ama’s story …

Ama (name of a female born on Saturday in Ghana) loves to travel and fortunately her work in public health affords her the opportunity to travel around her country Ghana, where she monitors health interventions at the community level. One of the places she loves to go is the northern part of the country, perhaps because she is from the southern part.  She is always excited and makes the most of her monitoring trips by visiting historical sites in the localities where she works.

For the past few months, she seems un-interested in going for monitoring visits, and had sometimes sounded hostile when monitoring trips to the north had been discussed. Her enthusiasm to travel had died down, her work at the office slowed and less creative; she seemed agitated most of the time and had picked quarrels with colleagues on the flimsiest of excuses. Ama had been to the hospital on more than six occasions within the last three months; with various complaints ranging from headaches, stomach pains, joint pains, chest pains and general body pains. Just last week she started throwing up suddenly and being a woman in her fertile years we, her colleagues, thought we had an answer to her recent visits to the hospital – Ama is Pregnant! But alas this was not so.   The head of human resource contacted Ama’s family and they informed her that she had been having sleepless nights and nightmares during the brief hours that she was able to sleep but most of the time she seemed well.

Now everyone was worried about Ama; has jealousy led some of our colleagues to use juju (voodoo) to bring Ama down? has she committed some sin against her ancestors?  Or she has been jilted by her boyfriend?  We could only speculate. It was later that the company doctor recommended that Ama need to see a Psychologist.

A Psychologist? – aah but what is happening to her is from home ooo – this is no Psychologist matter, after all she has been to the hospital several times and they have not been able to diagnose her.  Anyway, the Company doctor insisted but cautioned that, Ama should be persuaded and not forced to see a Psychologist; he recommended about three licensed ones to the HR Manager and urged her to encourage Ama to see one of them.

With some resistance both from us her colleagues and Ama herself, she decided to see the Psychologist to get management off her back. After the first three sessions, Ama broke down and began to describe not in any particular order the things that had been worrying her. For example, she said that on the day she threw up in the office she had heard screeching tyre sounds and could smell burning tyres which had brought to her horrific images of an accident she witnessed on one of her monitoring trips to the north.

The vehicle in which they were travelling had narrowly missed colliding with another vehicle and although theirs swayed and was able to stop, the other vehicle crashed into a nearby tree and it started burning; several passengers on the vehicle were seriously injured, there was blood everywhere and some of them died on the spot. At the time she and others in her vehicle had helped move some of the injured. Two months after the incident was the fifth anniversary of the death of her father – he had died in a car accident (although she did not witness the accident that killed her father, she remembers his broken limbs and lifeless body when she went to the hospital to see his body). In the months following the anniversary she had had frequent scenes of car accidents and burning bodies anytime she closed her eyes and the continued scent of burning tyres surrounding her anytime she passed near a vulcanizing shop near her home had worsened her situation. After a few more sessions and some tests, Ama was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is PTSD? 

According to Jacobson and Jacobson (2001) – ; PTSD is caused by experiencing severe psychic trauma. They have defined psychic trauma as an inescapable event that overwhelms an individual’s existing coping mechanisms.

 

Cardinal Features of PTSD

  1. The trauma must be of life threatening magnitude, and the person must respond with intense fear, hopelessness, or horror. The person may personally experience or witness the trauma
  2. Frequent intrusive memories of the event, having difficulty sleeping and or nightmares concerning the event
  3. Reliving the event or flashbacks as though the event is recurring
  4. Avoidance of conversations, places, people or events that serve as reminders of the traumatic event, being detached from others
  5. Persistent and intense autonomic arousal including exaggerated startle response
  6. Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  7. Such symptoms lasting for more than one month
  8. Significant impairment in major areas of human functioning such as work

Is PTSD Treatable?

We must not lose hope, the first thing is to seek care or for a caring individual to see your struggle and to recommend a mental health professional – in Ghana this will mean a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist. The main treatments are psychotherapy also known as ‘talk therapy’, medications, or both. Psychologist usually use talk therapies and may refer to a Psychiatrist if there is the need for medications. Psychotherapy can occur one-on-one or in a group and usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but can take more time.  There are many types of psychotherapy that can help people with PTSD. Some therapies will target symptoms while others target on social, family, or job-related challenges.

*Note that PTSD affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Also note that in our part of the world where our local language for psychology and psychiatry is still developing most of the time there is a lot of somatization as seen in Ama’s case – headaches, chest pains, stomach pains and the list goes on.

*The most important thing is if you or someone you care about is going through a situation you suspect to be PTSD advise and support him or her to see a mental health professional.

If you have found this blog helpful let us know. You can also contribute if you have a lived experience, going through an emotional trauma or you know someone who has and is willing to share his/her experience.  Ensure that as much as possible the individual remains anonymous to protect his/her dignity and right to privacy.

 

If you are a student and want to read more check out

  1. Jacobson J.L and Jacobson A.M (2001) – Psychiatric Secrets 2nd Ed – Hanley and Belfus Inc.
  2. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Washington DC 1994

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