Piecing it back after mental trauma

It is Mental Illness Awareness Week (4-10 October) and a key learning during this period is to know and realize that asking for help to cope with trauma is not a bad thing…

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You’ve faced something terrible recently—maybe an accident, sexual assault, or witnessed a bloody fight. Your heart palpitates, the vision just does not go out of your head, you get nightmares and feel detached. In other words, you might be going through post-traumatic stress. “Trauma is an act of violence or natural disaster, something which is not in our control,” says Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. “After the incident, there’s an urgent need to talk about what happened and how you feel about it and not bottle it up. If you ignore how the incident has affected you emotionally, which is what most Indians do, the stress leads to hyperarousal symptoms like palpitations, sleeplessness and nightmares.” According to a study published in the February issue of Journal of Traumatic Stress, about 80% of people experience a traumatic event during their life, of whom 10% develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The health guide on the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, US, mentions that stress symptoms can even be triggered by emotionally traumatic incidents like the loss of a loved one, retirement, divorce, becoming a parent, having gone through a chronic or acute illness, job loss or facing financial hardship, but according to Dr Parikh, rarely does it develop into PTSD. Surbhee Soni, clinical psychologist and founder of Horizon Expressive Therapy Centre in Delhi, agrees: “In most cases, PTSD develops only in severe conditions like sexual assault, accident or death of a loved one. The symptoms are so physically obvious that a person becomes immobile or loses the ability to talk. It’s also something that is more commonly seen in women than men.” A pilot study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in August looked into the issue and found that women are at a higher risk of developing PTSD than men, especially following certain types of trauma such as accident and assault.
Though the first human reaction to any incident is shock and denial, it is normal to experience sleepless nights, anxiety, feel the need to cry, be irritated and develop eating disorders. “In most cases,” says Dr Parikh, “it can be solved by going back to your normal routine at the earliest and talking about it with your family, friends and people who might have experienced the accident with you. A support system is very important.” But if the symptoms do not disappear within a month or two and you are just not able to resume your normal routine, that’s when you need to consult a mental health doctor. Here are some more tips to help you get back on track after you have been through something terrible.


Lack of sleep a few hours after exposure to a stressful incident can actually help you deal with it better, according to researchers at Tel Aviv University, Israel. When you sleep immediately afterwards, the memory of the event is consolidated in the head, which means you can recall it in all its reality, even years later. Published in July 2012 in the journal ‘Neuropsychopharmacology’, the study did a series of experiments to deduce that if you don’t sleep for 6 hours immediately after exposure to a traumatic event, your chances of developing trauma-like behavioural responses reduce.

Start now: Be it someone’s death, a traumatic accident or news of something bad, upon hearing about it, don’t sleep for about 6 hours. Talk to your loved ones and try to keep calm.
Read the complete story on Livemint website here