What is PTSD? Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, causes and treatment options explained

BBC war correspondent Fergal Keane is appearing in new documentary Living with PTSD

BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane explores the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the potential for healing in a new documentary which will air as part of Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May).

But what is PTSD and what are the signs and symptoms?

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Here’s what you need to know.

BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane explores the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a new documentary

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events.

It can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, but it can also occur weeks, months or even years later.

PTSD is estimated to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience.

However, it’s not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others do not.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks.

They may also experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt, and have problems sleeping and find concentrating difficult.

The NHS said: “The symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.”

What are the causes of PTSD?

Any situation that a person finds traumatic can cause PTSD.

These can include:

  • serious road accidents
  • violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
  • serious health problems
  • childbirth experiences

What are the treatment options?

The NHS explained that PTSD can be successfully treated, even when it develops many years after a traumatic event.

Any treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and how soon they occur after the traumatic event.

Any of the following treatment options may be recommended:

  • watchful waiting – monitoring your symptoms to see whether they improve or get worse without treatment
  • antidepressants – such as paroxetine or mirtazapine
  • psychological therapies – such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

You can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service.

What will Fergal Keane’s documentary explore?

The BBC introduction to the documentary said: “BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane has covered conflict and brutality for more than 30 years.

From Kigali to Baghdad to Belfast, he was always at the heart of the story and became a trusted BBC face, known for reporting with humanity and extraordinary empathy.

“But off-screen, Fergal struggled to keep another story from overwhelming him.

“He was suffering from an acute form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2020, Fergal went public with his diagnosis of PTSD.”

In the documentary, Fergal “lays bare its impact on himself and others like him” and explores how the disorder led him to consider withdrawing from conflict reporting.

It also investigates the latest scientific thinking behind PTSD and its treatment.

When is it on TV?

Fergal Keane - Living with PTSD will air on BBC2 on Monday 9 May at 9pm.