Let not trauma make you stressful
Dubai - Losing sleep and appetite, Alexei soon found her way to the clinical and health psychologist Dr Savita Date Menon, almost a month after her traumatic experience.
It all happened before her eyes. Alexei and her boyfriend was out on a romantic drive one night in Afghanistan, during a break from her media writing assignment. Their car was stopped, she was held down, the boyfriend dragged out and shot dead in front of her eyes, Alexei was too stunned to do anything. She was too numb to think or feel.
She simply followed instructions from others and flew out of the country. Her feelings shifted between the horrors of witnessing the death of her boyfriend and a feeling of guilt at her quick exit.
Losing sleep and appetite, Alexei soon found her way to the clinical and health psychologist Dr Savita Date Menon, almost a month after her traumatic experience.
Dr Savita, a visiting clinical and health psychologist at RAK Hospital & Arabian Wellness, said: "She looked calm at first sight and it took several sessions to address her recent past and her emotional trauma," Dr Savita said, explaining her condition as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"The PTSD is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions or threat to life. While it may be common to have some symptoms after any traumatic event, PTSD symptoms persist for well over a month after the trauma causing mental or physical distress and dysfunction in life. Suicide is a real threat with PTSD," she told Khaleej Times.
"While most people experience at least one traumatising event in their lifetime, not everybody develops PTSD. Interpersonal trauma such as rape or child abuse increases risk for PTSD compared to non-assault based trauma such as accidents and natural disasters. About 50 per cent of rape victims develop PTSD," Dr Savita added.
While individuals with PTSD prefer to avoid trauma related thoughts, they may still keep reliving the event through flashbacks and nightmares.
"The main treatments for people with PTSD are counselling and medication. While a combination of therapy and antidepressants is useful, therapy is considered a must. Therapy should be one-on-one and/or in a group. Social support certainly helps with recovery from PTSD and social alienation aggravates symptoms. Drug and alcohol abuse hinder recovery from PTSD.
PTS can possibly be prevented if therapy is offered to those with early symptoms. The psychotherapy programmes with the strongest demonstrated efficacy include exposure therapy, stress inoculation training and trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy.
For PTSD among children, Dr Savita said: "Children, especially under ten years of age, usually express their memories and distress through play. Play therapy is good for children and young adults."
According to Prof. Adrian Kennedy, Chief Wellness Officer at RAK Hospital, "Physical activity can influence people's psychological wellbeing and physical health. Hence daily moderate exercise is recommended as a way to distract from disturbing emotions and increase feelings of being in control again.
"Exercise releases endorphins, body's natural healing hormones, which serve as the body's internal antidepressant. If post-traumatic stress victims are encouraged to exercise, moderately and daily, emotional trauma can be managed."
Patience is the key to dealing with acute stress disorder
Due to a high rate of traffic accidents and fatalities, acute stress disorder or ASD is quite common in the UAE. ASD is characterised by the development of severe anxiety after exposure to a catastrophic event or an intense emotional reaction to a stressor. These stressor or events commonly involve a threat of death, serious injury, physical or sexual violence.
Individuals with ASD experience high levels of anxiety, feeling numb or detached, have trouble sleeping, are easily startled, have intense reactions to trauma reminders or thoughts, and often have trouble functioning in daily life.
Counter to popular belief, grief does not move in a linear fashion through stages. It is experienced in waves of that cross through a series of 'tasks.'
Grief counselling is not always required but can be very helpful in guiding the grief process.
It is important for friends and family to understand grieving requires time. Trying to rush someone back to 'normal' is an impediment to their healing. Everyone grieves differently. Some may cry, and some may not. Tears are not an indicator of how much pain someone is experiencing.
Avoid feeling pressured to try and "fix" or "take away" the pain. Just listening is often one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone who is experiencing grief.
Friends and family can most effectively help someone with ASD by not forcing them to share their trauma experience over and over again.
LightHouse Center for Wellbeing provides free grief consultation. We believe that no one has to experience grief alone.
The writer is clinical social worker programme coordinator
Raymee Grief Center at The LightHouse Arabia