Up to 25% of South Africans could suffer from post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), according to psychiatrist Dr Eugene Allers. When crime and motor vehicle accidents are taken into consideration, six million South Africans could suffer from PTSD. Nearly a third of these are between the 30 and 40 years old.
Allers further said that 58% of South African children have witnessed incidents of violence and crime – 22% of these children could meet the criteria for PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after an experience that is sudden or unexpected, that involves a threat to life or safety, or physical injury. Traumatic events result in psychological injury – they affect your emotions and thoughts and shatter your basic assumptions of safety, predictability and controllability.
Traumatic events, like a car accident, hijacking, rape, or even witnessing such an event, produces emotions of intense helplessness, fear, horror and guilt. Experts believe that about a quarter to a third of people who witness a traumatic incident develop PTSD.
Violent crime, hijackings and armed robberies have left many victims traumatised in South Africa. Other stressors include physical and sexual abuse, car accidents, and illnesses including HIV.
Not seeking help
South Africans are subjected to stress, yet many don’t seek help, says Cassey Chambers of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
SADAG’s 15 help-lines receive many calls from people suffering from depression and PTSD as a result of exposure to trauma. For many, getting help is a long process of denial and silent suffering.
“Because crime can be so violent, many people feel they have ‘got off lightly’ if they have ‘just’ been through a smash-and-grab or had a car accident, and feel guilty about feeling vulnerable, exposed, and traumatised,” says Chambers.
Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic incident will develop PTSD. However, up to 70% of people with psychiatric problems have major depression, and based on previous research, Allers believes that 50% of people with major depression could also have PTSD. Many of these people remain undiagnosed and untreated.
PTSD is very treatable. The aim of therapy is empowerment and mastery of the anxiety-producing symptoms. Patients are asked to tell their story then retell it looking at the facts, their thoughts and feelings, and the smells and sounds they remember and now associate with the incident. Symptoms are normalised and guilt and self-blame - common to trauma victims - is reframed.
SADAG will be holding PTSD talks around the country on 9 October. Workshops at various venues throughout the country will be presented by experts in PTSD and will look at issues such as the causes and symptoms of PTSD, why treating PTSD is so critical, self-help for PTSD, as well as airing a documentary and answering questions.
These workshops are open to the public at a donation of R20. Talks will be held in Diepsloot, Soweto, Vosloorus, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Sandton, Alberton, Benoni, Port Elizabeth, East London, Witbank, Bloemfontein, George, Stellenbosch, Sasolburg, Kimberley, Upington, Umhlanga, Howick, Centurion, Silverton, Soshanguwe, Rosebank, Krugersdorp, Springs, Siyabuswa, Louis Trichardt, Thohoyandou, Belhar, Rustenburg, Ermelo, and Komaatiport.
For more details on the talks, contact SADAG on 011 262 6396 or 0800 20 50 26 or visit their website www.sadag.co.za.
SADAG has a list of therapists and support groups across the country for anyone needing treatment. Please call them on 0800 20 50 26 or 011 262 6396. SMS 31393.
(Information supplied by SADAG, October 2010)