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Understanding psychotrauma

You've experienced a traumatic event.

We all go through stressful life events. However, some of them can leave deep and lasting psychological scars, and can even lead to the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder. It could be an accident on the road or at work, or physical, sexual or domestic violence. It could also be a disaster, a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one. These events can affect us directly, or those close to us, in our adult lives or even in our childhood.

Everyone can react differently.

Some people feel a multitude of emotions, such as sadness, anger and guilt, which often blend together. Others, on the other hand feel cut off from their emotions, as if anaesthetized.

All these reactions are habitual and frequent, and will gradually diminish over time, eventually disappearing, usually within a month. Their disappearance shows that we have "digested" the event.

Find out more about dissociation and disorientation

But sometimes we find it difficult to overcome the event and its impact on our lives.

They can happen very quickly, or months or even years later. We relive the event in the form of nightmares, flashes and thoughts that come to us even when we don't want them to. We also start to avoid anything that reminds us of the event.

Some everyday things become more difficult, if not impossible, such as getting to work, shopping or taking a walk. At the same time, we feel on constant alert, always in danger. We feel like a different person now, that our life before the event has been swept away.

These signs should lead us to seek help.

In fact, these difficulties can get even worse. They can damage relationships with those closest to us. But they can also lead to other problems, such as excessive alcohol or drug consumption, depression and suicidal thoughts.

It's time to talk to a healthcare professional, as it could be post-traumatic stress disorder. Difficulties can last a very long time, especially if they are rooted in childhood. Both children and adults can suffer from this disorder.

The first person to consult is your GP.

It will not only help you understand what's happening to you, but also direct you to centers near you that specialize in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. There, you'll find qualified professionals who can work with you to find the best possible treatment solutions. It's never too late to seek treatment, but the sooner the better.

PDF: PTSD booklet
Living better

How to take care of yourself


Warn your loved ones and don't stay alone

Feeding yourself

Eating well and staying hydrated


Preserving your sleep


Get back into your routine and encourage pleasant activities

Getting help

Consulting healthcare professionals

Protecting yourself

Avoid alcohol and drug abuse

Both children and adults can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The signs are the same as for an adult: the child may unwittingly relive the traumatic event in the form of nightmares, flashes or thoughts. They may also avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. They may also feel constantly on the alert.

But the child may also have difficulty remembering important aspects of the event. He may refuse to go to school or sleep alone. He may wet his bed. He may also lose interest in things that used to interest him, lose his appetite, have problems with attention and concentration.

He or she may also be more often in conflict with loved ones, or feel guilty about what has happened.

If these signs last for more than a month, and the child is unable to resume his or her normal life at home or at school, it's time to consult a healthcare professional to find help and support for the child and his or her loved ones.

Find out more about PTSD in children
Living better

How to care for a child suffering from PTSD?

Help the child feel secure: he may need more of your time, care and comfort for a while.

Help children to relax, for example by practicing breathing exercises such as inhaling and exhaling slowly on each of their 5 fingers as if blowing out birthday candles.

Do fun things together: play, draw, dance, listen to music, go for a walk, etc.

Reassure the child that things will get better and that you are there for him/her

Consult a healthcare professional, starting with your child's paediatrician

Warn the teacher that the child is going through a difficult period and may have difficulty concentrating.

What about other disorders?

We may have difficulty coping with a traumatic event and its impact on our lives, but we don't have to go through the main warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (flashbacks, avoidance, hyper-vigilance).

In fact, we can develop difficulties other than PTSD after a traumatic event. It's important that we pay attention to our suffering without minimizing it, because anything is possible in reaction to a traumatic event.

We can, for example, suffer from depression, develop phobias or even addictions.

Sometimes our body will take over and express our distress through symptoms: we may experience stomach aches, migraines, skin reactions, and so on.

This is called somatization. If these symptoms were already common before the traumatic event, they can also suddenly become worse. It's important to ask ourselves whether these symptoms are related to what we've experienced.

Whatever the situation, we mustn't be left alone with our suffering: there are ways of getting better. The first step is to consult your GP.

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