Aimee-Lee Verster
4 minute read
9 Jan 2020
1:03 pm

An estimated six million South Africans could be suffering from crime-related PTSD

Aimee-Lee Verster

SADAG argues that hijacking victims suffer the same symptoms and experience the same level of trauma as people who are exposed to a war zone or natural disaster.

One suspect was shot dead in an attempted hijacking on April 5, 2017. Photos: Sonwabile Antonie

According to a report by leading psychiatrist, Dr Eugene Allers, six million South Africans may suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result of having survived a hijacking, reports Witbank News.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could affect as many as 25% of South Africans – this is an estimate of undiagnosed patients.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, robbery or any violent personal assault.

In the past, PTSD has been known by many names, such as “shell shock” during World War One and “combat fatigue” in post-World War Two.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings that have to do with their experience that last long after the traumatic event is over.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) argues that victims of hijacking and car theft suffer the same symptoms and experience the same level of trauma as people who are exposed to a war zone or a natural disaster.

Individuals with PTSD also experience panic attacks as a result of the extreme fear that they experienced during the traumatic event.

Their throats tighten during an attack, while their breathing and heart rate rises, making them feel nauseous and dizzy.

When left untreated, PTSD is often a path to depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

Scientific studies indicate that during and after trauma, our brains are re-wired.

Symptoms usually begin within three months of the accident, but may be present years later. These symptoms need to continue for at least a month in order for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made.

Those with PTSD tend to be easy to startle, lose interest in life, can exhibit violent, irritable, or aggressive behaviour, and can become emotionally numb.

Hijacking survivors sometimes ‘relive’ the incident in their minds and have hallucinations or flashbacks about it, which are typically caused by ordinary events reminiscent of the incident. For instance, a car backfiring can recreate the sound of gunfire.

Some people with PTSD may also attempt to self-medicate and dull the painful emotions by abusing alcohol or other substances, which further damages every aspect of their lives.

Anyone diagnosed with PTSD symptoms, or anyone who suspects that they may be suffering from PTSD, is urged to seek help as soon as possible.

Symptoms of PTSD

1. Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories, distressing dreams, or the traumatic event’s flashbacks. Flashbacks can become so intense that people feel that they are witnessing or seeing the traumatic experience all over again in real-time.

2. Avoiding reminders of the event. This may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that cause distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering the traumatic event or thinking about it. They may refuse to talk about what happened or how they feel about it.

3. Suffer from negative thoughts and feelings. Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and skewed perceptions about oneself or others, constant fear, terror, rage, guilt or shame, far less involvement in previously enjoyed activities, or feeling distant or isolated from others.

4. Behavioural symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts, being careless or self-destructive, being easily shocked or having attention or sleeping problems.

Who is more likely to get PTSD

All PTSD sufferers have been through some type of trauma, whether it be a hijacking, a flood or the sudden death of a loved one.

There are, however, some types of people who are more prone to developing PTSD than others.

While PTSD can happen to anyone, statistics show that there is a significant gender difference in the prevalence of PTSD.

Around 10% of women have PTSD at some point in their lives, compared to 4% of men.

Numerous research studies on post-traumatic disorder have shown that females are twice more likely to experience PTSD than males.

Apart from trauma type, culture and gender roles are also factors that contribute to women being more susceptible to suffering from PTSD.

Where to find help

It is important to report your symptoms to your family doctor or local clinic.

If neither of these are viable options, please call SADAG on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26, if you need a referral to a doctor, therapist or support group.

Calling SADAG also offers you access to speak to a professional counsellor.

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