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Family Forum – Experts should be consulted to deal with person’s PTSD

Family Forum shares some great info about PTSD.

Question:

Can a person with PTSD consciously “switch off” an episode of violent and aggressive behaviour? If they are having an “episode”, acting out aggressively and yelling, can they stop this behaviour when an unexpected third party shows up at the house, or the phone rings and someone answers it?

I have witnessed a person with a PTSD diagnosis do this on several occasions. To make it more confusing, the person resumed their PTSD episode when the third party left or the phone call ended. Is this PTSD?

Answer:

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an area of some debate and discussion in psychology and psychiatry. The changes in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5) of the American Psychiatric Association attest to this. It is important any diagnosis is made by a suitably qualified mental health professional.

It is normal and common for people to react with symptoms of distress, anxiety, fear, grief and/or anger after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This is not PTSD but is the normal human reaction to real or perceived danger. Normally these feelings resolve over time as people learn how to cope with them.

If, after a period of several months, the person finds they are continuing to experience symptoms, such as recurrent intrusive thoughts and/or nightmares, “flashbacks” to the event or experience, exaggerated avoidance of places or other reminders of the trauma and negative alterations in thought and mood for example (this list is not exhaustive), and that these issues persist for more than one month, then PTSD is a possibility.

A person who is suffering from PTSD can become in a “dissociative” state ie lose contact with their surroundings and own behaviours as a result of a stressful situation. While in this state it is also possible that an external stimulus such as a phone ringing can bring them back to reality. However it seems less than likely that they would be able to pause, behave “normally” then immediately resume such behaviour involuntarily.

When the symptoms of a previously under-recognised health condition are widely publicised a psychological phenomenon known as the “contagion effect” can sometimes occur. People who are already suffering some form of psychological dysfunction such as anxiety or aggression can self-diagnose or “adopt” a condition such as “PTSD” based upon recognition of a few of the symptoms. This leads them to also adopt some of the behaviours of that condition ie “I have the symptoms therefore I have the condition and this is how people with my condition behave.” In a sense the “diagnosis” gives them permission to behave in similar ways and inhibits any efforts to change.

Whether the person you describe has PTSD or not it seems that he or she clearly has some problems with anger management and aggressive behaviour. The Panel strongly recommends you encourage this person to consult a GP for a referral to a qualified mental health professional for support and therapy.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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