Tuesday, 23 November 2010

PTSD

A few weeks ago, while I was slicing bread, the knife slipped and I cut my finger badly. It was very deep and very painful, it bled a lot, and we debated going to hospital to get it stitched up. However, having spent three hours in A&E with my daughter (who broke her thumb playing dodgeball at school) the previous week, I really couldn’t face doing that again, so we just wrapped it up as best we could, and now it’s perfectly fine.

The irony is that I’m not perfectly fine. I haven’t sliced any bread since it happened, and just looking at the knife block gives me a very unpleasant sensation somewhere between fear, nervousness and revulsion. At odd moments I find myself remembering, with a shudder, how it felt to have the knife slice through my flesh. I know this is stupid; it was a minor injury and healed quickly, and I’m a grown woman who should be able to forget about something so trivial and not let it affect my life. And yet there is still that strange residual anxiety which I suppose will only pass with time and plenty of practice with a Sainsbury’s tiger loaf as I persuade my subconscious that, yes, knives are dangerous, but not the extent that I need to avoid them altogether.

Bizarre as this sounds, it has given me the smallest inkling of what it might be like to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many people who have been through shocking and distressing circumstances, be it terrorist atrocity, the horrors of war, or a car accident, find their personalities changed and their mental health compromised by the nightmares, flashbacks, sleep problems, anger and gut-wrenching terror. However strong a person you are, traumatic events can seriously impact your ability to live a normal life.

To be diagnosed as PTSD the symptoms have to last more than a month and lead to avoidance of things that remind the person of the trauma. The trauma need not be something related to violence – receiving news of a serious illness, or being verbally bullied, can lead to symptoms of PTSD. Although up to 90% of people experience a traumatic experience at some time in their life, only 8% develop PTSD. Factors which increase the risk that a person will be susceptible to this problem include being in foster care or having an unstable childhood, being physically punished in childhood, or suffering from depression. Factors which reduce the risk include having a strong paternal figure, a high level of education and being older when the traumatic event happens.

Despite having a high level of education, solicitors are not immune to PTSD, and specialist counselling and treatment is required when it occurs. Whether your fear, flashbacks and anxiety are the result of losing your job or an encounter with a violent client, LawCare can be a good starting place for finding the help and support you need.

Right, I’m off to make myself a sandwich.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

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