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The difference between trauma and PTSD

August 14, 2023
Marcia Sharp

Do you know the difference between trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? They often get mixed up as they’re both the result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The main distinction is that trauma is an emotional response to a terrible incident, whereas PTSD is a longer-term mental health condition that follows trauma.

Although trauma can lead to PTSD, not everyone who goes through trauma will develop the disorder. After a traumatic event, it’s not unusual for a person’s mental health to be impacted and they may suffer temporary symptoms like reliving the incident. However, whether or not someone is diagnosed with PTSD depends on the severity of their symptoms and how long they persist for. Anything over a month could be treated as PTSD.

What is trauma?

A traumatic event is something that you consider to be very stressful, distressing or frightening. Trauma is entirely personal to the person who’s experiencing it; two people could go through the same thing and both be affected in different ways. Only you know if an experience was traumatic for you.

Most of us will have experienced at least one type of trauma in our lives. This might be a relationship ending, the death of a loved one or a health scare. Being discriminated against based on your identity can also be emotionally scarring, which is sadly something that many LGBT+ individuals experience.

Following a trauma, you may experience temporary symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks, however trauma can also have a long-lasting impact. It might change how you react to certain situations, lower your self-esteem and make it harder for you to trust people.

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, it’s important to be kind to yourself as you come to terms with what’s happened. It might help to talk to someone about how you're feeling, whether that’s a close friend, family member, or a mental health professional. In a mental health emergency, the Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123.

Mental health support and resources for LGBT+ people:

LGBT Foundation: https://lgbt.foundation

Pink Therapy: https://pinktherapy.com

Stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk

Switchboard LGBT+ helpline: 0800 0119 100

What is PTSD?

PTSD tends to occur following a severe trauma. People often associate PTSD with soldiers, but it can also be triggered by something like being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, doing a job where you’re frequently exposed to traumatic incidents or being sexually assaulted.

People with PTSD often relive their trauma, suffering with flashbacks and uncontrollable thoughts about the event which make them feel anxious and on edge. They may also struggle with feelings of shame and guilt, causing them to withdraw from others and become isolated.

PTSD comes in different forms. In addition to mild, moderate and severe PTSD, people can also be diagnosed with the following:

  • Complex PTSD: Where you have experienced multiple traumatic events over a longer period of time throughout your life.
  • Birth trauma: Where you experience a traumatic childbirth.
  • Secondary trauma: When you’re supporting someone who has experienced trauma, and you experience some PTSD symptoms as a result.
  • Delayed-onset PTSD: Where your symptoms emerge more than six months after experiencing trauma.

Read more about PTSD here.

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Intrusive memories about what happened
  • Dreams or nightmares relating to what happened
  • Flashbacks – where you feel or act as if the trauma is happening again
  • Feeling distressed when you something reminds you of the event
  • Having physical reactions to reminders of the event
  • Hypervigilant to threats (for example if you’ve had a car accident, you might particularly look for and notice news about other accidents)
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping

Treatment for trauma and PTSD

Trauma impacts people differently; everyone heals at their own pace, with their own readiness to confront the anxieties and stress around the trauma. The most important thing is that you’re patient with yourself as you navigate your way through the situation, knowing that it may take some time to feel okay again.

Many people who go through trauma may find it difficult to open up to others about what they’re going through, however speaking to someone you trust can really help. You don’t have to tell them about the specific trauma, just talking to them how you’re feeling might be helpful.

If trauma is impacting your everyday life or you think you may have developed PTSD, it’s a good idea to speak to a mental health professional. Going to your GP is a good starting point as they will be able to talk through the treatment options which are available to you, which might include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of talking therapy which encourages you to challenge the way you think and act in order to identify negative thought patterns. At ieso, we use typed CBT to treat a range of mental health issues, including PTSD. Our text-based service is accessed via a secure online platform, non-judgemental and free to some NHS patients. Visit our website to find out if you're eligible and learn more about what we do.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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