Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something you only tend to hear in the movies particularly about American soldiers who have returned from war but PTSD is more than trauma.
PTSD occurs when a person has experienced a traumatic event and is unable to process the shock properly. Such events could include a serious injury, illness, or accident; being abused or sexually assaulted; multiple bereavements; being rejected because of stigma or prejudice; war, political violence or forced migration.
It can cause flashbacks, nightmares, a powerful sense of dread, nervousness and an avoidance of reminders of the event. Memories of the event can also be affected and people often say they have difficulty concentrating as they are easily distracted by worries.
A recent study has found there is a high prevalence of PTSD in people living with HIV. The study reviewed several other studies that were looking at PTSD and HIV. After conducting a search and including studies that met an accepted definition of PTSD.
They had 38 studies, most of which were from the United States (21 studies) and sub-Saharan Africa (11 studies). Most were small with two-thirds having fewer than 300 participants and only three had more than 1 000.
Across the 38 studies, the average prevalence of PTSD was 28 percent. Nonetheless, there was a wide variation in the results, perhaps in part due to methodological issues.
The prevalence appeared to be higher in women (35 percent) and men who have sex with men (33 percent) than heterosexual men (20 percent), although very few studies provided estimates for the latter two groups.
“PTSD among people living with HIV is common worldwide,” the authors conclude. “This review highlights that PTSD should be routinely screened for and that more effective prevention strategies and treatment packages targeting PTSD are needed in people living with HIV.”
What does this mean for us here in Malawi? That comes to mind considering our society that scarcely talks about mental health.
It is important that our health systems can diagnose people as early as possible, overcome any barriers to them engaging in their own care, and make appropriate referrals.
Mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
PTSD is a mental health condition and as a nation, community, friends and family we need to support people who have experienced these conditions to get as well as they can and lead full and contributing lives.