Written by Kiranjeet Kaur, Khin Kyay Mone Win | Edited by Chang Chi Yin, Zantal Siah
International Medical University’s (IMU’s) Psychology Club organised a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Talk and Trauma Exhibition on the 31st of May 2019. The talk was attended by around 50 participants, whereas the exhibition welcomed numerous visitors throughout the time frame of the event.
The talk was conducted by two clinical psychologists, Ms Puvessha Jegathisan and Ms Cheryl Tham, who are also psychology lecturers in IMU. Both of them have had vast experiences in treating PTSD clients and many more psychological disorders. Additionally, they have worked together in treating refugees and asylum-seekers who had undergone traumatic events within their lifetime.
The objective of both the talk and the exhibition was to shed light on the actual severity of the word ‘trauma’ and what it means to have gone through a traumatic event in a person’s lifetime as well as the psychological effects that arise from it. The perceived stigmas that emerge in regard to seeking mental help after enduring a traumatic situation was also a planned topic of discussion. Furthermore, this event aimed to cultivate the use of art and narratives as a way of raising awareness on a particular issue.
Ms Puvessha began the talk by introducing the term ‘PTSD’ and discussed on who might be more prone to developing this disorder. “A person may develop PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. However, what may be traumatic to you may not be traumatic to me and vice versa. Hence, it is very subjective when it comes to who may actually develop PTSD,” she said. She added that “it also depends highly on a person’s resilience as well as their choice of coping mechanism after having gone through a traumatic event”.
Ms Cheryl then introduced several symptoms of PTSD based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), such as avoidance, hypervigilance, nightmares and flashbacks. “An individual with an avoidance symptom will most likely avoid exposing themselves to any external trigger that may remind them of the traumatic incident,” she stated. Ms Puvessha and Ms Cheryl also explained that having symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks will often leave clients feeling as if they have no peace within their mind as they are constantly being haunted by images of the traumatic event from day till night.
Some of the severe causes of PTSD – which include military combat, sexual assault, mugging or robbery, being held hostage, enduring an automobile accident, torture, and many more – were covered during the talk. Both speakers then delved into some of the more horrifying experiences that their clients had gone through, especially in war-torn countries where they were primarily exposed to seeing dead bodies everywhere daily, while also witnessing their family members being detonated right in front of them. In terms of treatment, a combination of medications as well as psychotherapy is often used to treat PTSD. The more common approaches used in psychotherapy include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy combined with relaxation exercises. “The medication is there to relieve symptoms, whereas therapy would come in to promote healing,” Ms Cheryl explained.
“Find out how they’re doing and how they’re feeling now and ask them how you can help. Do not ask them about their trauma or what happened; that is only to satisfy your own curiosity and it does not help them at all,” Ms Puvessha emphasised. Ms Cheryl also advised that “you should look out for red flags, one of them being suicidal ideation. When that talk comes about, do not just sit on it. Channel that individual to receive professional mental help”. At the end of the day, both speakers stressed about being a supportive friend or family member towards an individual with PTSD throughout their recovery process as it can be a long and painful journey for them.
The one-and-a half-hour talk ended with the participants thanking the speakers for having shared their expertise and knowledge on this rising matter. The participants then proceeded to visit the trauma exhibition, which was filled with paintings on masks, realistic-fictional narratives, as well as information-filled banners and different scenario-based decorations on four different causes of PTSD, namely military combat, violence, an automobile accident, and witnessing a murder.
All in all, IMU’s PTSD Talk and Trauma Exhibition 2019 was a successful event filled with knowledge-enhancing information and creative content in regard to shedding light on PTSD, which was made possible by the collective effort of the psychology staff and students of IMU.