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Risk factors of post-traumatic stress disorder – get help from psychologist Louw Alberts

After one lives through or witnesses a traumatic event that is dangerous and shocking, there is the risk of developing Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental disorder extends past regular feelings of fear and shock after going through such an experience. Indeed, this disorder emerges when a person continues to experience symptoms persistently, despite the fact that the traumatic event is no longer a threat to survival. There are various risk factors for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Anyone can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Any person is able to experience PTSD regardless of age. For example, children; soldiers who have returned from war; survivors of physical or sexual assault; and survivors of accidents or disasters. Research shows that about seven or eight percent of the population will develop this disorder at one point or another in life. Women are more at risk than men are for developing this disorder, and a genetic predisposition is another factor that may increase or decrease the chance of post-traumatic stress disorder.

While PTSD often emerges after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, it is also possible to develop this disorder after a loved one goes through a life-threatening or traumatic situation. In addition, when a close family member or friend passes away unexpectedly or in a shocking way, PTSD can be triggered.

Although post-traumatic stress disorder has a high prevalence rate, it should be noted that only a fraction of the population who experience a traumatic event actually go on to develop PTSD. There are many elements at play that can make a person more likely or unlikely to experience this disorder. Risk factors put individuals at a higher level of risk for having PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, while resilience factors do the opposite, and can militate against developing this disorder after surviving a traumatic situation.

  • Risk factors

Various components and circumstances influence whether someone is more at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, surviving a life-threatening situation; getting injured, witnessing another person dying, being injured or abused; experiencing trauma during childhood; experiencing feelings of powerlessness, terror and fear; receiving inadequate social support after a trauma; being mentally ill already, or having a history of mental illness; and having to cope with additional adversity after the traumatic event (such as a family member dying, being fired or evicted, and/ or getting hurt).

  • Resilience factors

There are also factors that help to protect against the development of PTSD. Examples of these are: requesting and being provided with adequate social support from family members and friends; joining a support group after the traumatic situation; training oneself to feel positive about how one reacts or reacted during the traumatic event; developing a healthy way of coping after the trauma, and being able to view the event as a learning experience that has made one stronger and more resilient; and training oneself to continue functioning, despite adverse feelings.

Currently, more research is being undertaken regarding risk and resilience factors, genetics and neurobiology. It is hoped that, in the future, mental-healthcare professionals will be able to identify who is likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, so that it can be effectively averted.

Louw Alberts is a counsellor in the Centurion, Pretoria area. Contact him if you are suffering from PTSD

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