Many of us have heard of the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – also known as PTSD, a condition we typically relate to war heroes and people who have suffered various types of significant trauma such as, surviving a terror attack or living through natural disaster. Yet there are many types of PTSD, ones that we aren’t yet made aware of. The condition may affect our family, friends or colleagues at work and without the right understanding of PTSD, we as a society will struggle to help rebuild the lives of others who struggle and relive their traumas every day.
First acknowledged in war veterans using the term “shell-shock”, PTSD is now mental health condition that has been recognised to affect anyone. Some sufferers may experience symptoms shortly after experiencing trauma whereas others may experience “delayed-onset PTSD” where PTSD surfaces months or years after the event/s occur.
Like many mental health conditions, PTSD can be measured using different levels of severity however this cannot undermine the conditions overall affect on suffers day-to-day lives.
Symptoms of people with the condition vary however here are some examples of some; vivid flashbacks, nightmares, intense distress at real of symbolic reminders of the trauma (i.e., a house, street or road it happened in), mood fluctuations, difficulty in concentrating and physical impositions such as sweating and nausea. These symptoms are known to create a negative environment for the sufferer, one that they cannot run away from leaving them feeling distrustful, unsafe and as if the world is against them. Also affecting the persons quality of life and even known to make sufferers feel suicidal, the condition can take a massive toll on individuals who are left feeling alone and helpless.
Although there is an increasing amount of awareness for mental health in the UK, people are still unaware of PTSD, the fact they may even have it and how common it can be. Affecting 1/3 people in the UK who have lived through trauma, the condition is more common than you perhaps realise.
As most of us know, the NHS is able to provide individuals with mental health support, yet with resources stretched, especially since the pandemic struck and funding cutbacks, many of sufferers fail to receive the treatment they require. With over half of the UK’s population waiting longer than 4 weeks for an initial consultation and 11% left to wait longer than 6 months, 1/9 patients are reported to seek emergency or crisis points such as mental health helplines or A&E services. Such long wait times leave sufferers battling their trauma alone. Through time, these symptoms can get better but also become worse or more intense due to the individual's repeat exposure to flashbacks and other symptoms that they are not yet able to control.
Various treatments available through the NHS include watchful waiting, antidepressants and psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR). Yet which therapy works best depends specifically on the individual undergoing treatment. A study published in 2018 found that EMDR created a better impact on sufferers in regard to anxiety, however this treatment is less readily available by the NHS in comparison to CBT due to a lack of resources and less trained staff members. For people who can afford EMDR treatment, they may resort to seeking private counselling.
This week we spoke with 18-year-old Kieran Alfred about his experiences with the NHS counselling versus private counselling he has received over the last 2+ years to uncover what reality is like for someone living with complex PTSD.
What did you struggle with before/at the beginning of attending counselling?
“Living through constant flashbacks of bad things that happened in the past was daunting, sometimes I’d be at school and someone would talk to me and it also felt as though I was being interrupted and it made me feel angry because I was trying to process so much overwhelming information. I was getting into trouble at school, I got kicked out of two secondary schools actually. I managed to sit my GCSE’s luckily – which I did better than I thought I would in, somehow. After being kicked out during my GCSE’s I think I started to lose myself even more, I felt failed by the system. I hated school and teachers and learnt nothing about coping with the real life. I got into arguments with teachers frequently because I felt like they were always picking on me and unfair. After leaving I started selling drugs and made friends with the wrong people, some of them were older and I think having such a vulnerable mind made it easier for me to fall into being influenced negatively. I struggled with girlfriends and my family, I’d be abusive and violent then feel really guilty about it afterwards and not understand how I got to that point”.
What made you seek counselling?
“I was in year 10, aged 15 and I started experiencing a wide range of negative thoughts, from panic attacks and anxiety to feeling deep sadness most days. My thoughts were constantly racing, and it made me feel like I was crazy, I genuinely thought I there is something really, really wrong with me. I felt suicidal frequently, to the point where I had planned how I was going to do it and tried a couple of times. I know that feeling like that is unhealthy, but I couldn’t find a way to deal with it at all and that’s why I decided to seek counselling with the help of my Mother”.
Are you attending any counselling sessions at the moment?
“A few months ago, back in November 2020 I started private counselling which has been funded by my Mum. They are fortnightly and one hour long, costing £90p/h”.
What made you switch from NHS services to private counselling?
“I was offered CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) through the NHS. They only offered me 12-15 1-hour sessions. I didn’t feel like I was getting the right treatment – it wasn’t in-depth or specific to trauma. I actually only got diagnosed properly when I started private counselling. When I turned 18, I was no longer offered CAMHS and was told to be referred to adult services by my GP which meant going on long waiting lists, waiting for a treatment that may not even work or be specific to my mental health needs. My mental health was still deteriorating, and I just couldn’t wait any longer. I was getting into trouble left, right and centre because I didn’t know how to deal with the sadness and frustration in or outside my home life. My Mum, she’s been very helpful and supportive, sought private counselling out of desperation which is expensive. She found an experienced and trained EMDR counsellor online that we can only really afford fortnightly since the price of private counselling is quite expensive”.
How has your personal experience with EMDR been so far and has it helped?
“Before starting I couldn’t understand how it would work which meant I was quite sceptical about it. My counsellor told me that EMDR would be able to desensitise the memories of my trauma by being asked specific questions, following her finger or sometimes using lights. It’s quite a strange thing to do but I’ve seen progress so far. Since starting therapy, I think it has made me more conscious of how I process my thoughts and my memories. So far, it helps me to manage my emotions as it makes me get a clear understanding of what I’m going through. Before starting EMDR I was only diagnosed with anxiety, since being diagnosed properly and more specifically I am aware of what I struggle with as well as why this therapy can work for me. I think belief in the therapy also goes a long way because then you’re more likely to want to engage with your counsellor. Before EMDR I hated therapy and saw no point in it but now I can see the benefits of finding the right treatment”.
What advice would you give someone who has been struggling with finding the right treatment for them?
“I would tell them to not give up trying – even though I’ve felt like giving up so many times. Suffering from a mental health condition can put you in a really dark place, especially when you think no one understands you, or when you don’t even understand yourself. It’s hard, especially when you don’t have a proper diagnosis to process everything, it gets very overwhelming knowing that somethings up, but you don’t know what it is exactly. The internet can be helpful if you look in the right places, Mind UK give some good advice on mental health related stuff, maybe look into that. Also, if you can talk to someone close to you, if you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to try the helplines and try to remember that you’ll never meet that person, so try not to feel embarrassed about it. If you can, invest in your mental health, save for counselling or ask for support from a family member who may be able to help. I earn £350 a month as I am a student, I only work a few hours a week and my Mum and I put the money together to afford private counselling. It’s really hard and I still struggle day-to-day but keeping an open mind to therapy is a good thing”.
It is evident that by finding the right diagnosis and treatment you deserve, things can and will get better.
One great resource I have been able to find is Kevin Braddock’s Torchlight System Practice Cards is able to which provide suffers with a somewhat unusual way of coping. Using varied coloured cards, Braddock provides action cards as well as idea cards – a great way to motivate you to get through the day, a rewarding process as you get along. These can be found via: https://torchlightsystem.com
Additionally, if you think that you suffer from ill mental health, feel free to also check resources published via the NHS such as their depression and anxiety self-assessment quiz, save your results and push your GP to give you a consultation, also knowing that private counselling is an option if you see fit.
There are many points of contact offering different types of services for individuals who have reached crisis point which can be found via this NHS link below: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/where-to-get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/..