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KARACHI: Increasing violence in society has made children very vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it’s important that parents and teachers know how the mental illness affects them, said speakers at a workshop held on Saturday.

Early identification and treatment of the PTSD, according to experts, is critical to secure quality of life otherwise a child could suffer from emotional and psychological scars for life if the mental illness is left untreated.

The workshop on the PTSD with special focus on children was organised by the Karwan-i-Hayat, a non-governmental organisation working for the under-privileged mentally ill patients. The venue was the Psychiatric Care and Rehabilitation Centre (PCRC) in Keamari.

Giving a presentation on the PTSD, Dr Ajmal Kazmi, senior consultant at the Karwan-i-Hayat, defined the post-traumatic stress disorder and said that it was natural to show signs of fear and anxiety when someone was in danger. But if a person continued to feel in that way in normal circumstances, there was a need for specialist advice.

Citing a foreign study, Dr Kazmi said that women and children were more vulnerable to developing the PTSD. Natural disasters had less chance to cause the mental illness as compared to man-made problems.

“Although the PTSD can present itself in different ways in different cultures, there is a need to worry when these symptoms start affecting personal relationships, leisure activities and work,” he said.

The PTSD symptoms (that could present late in life) in adults, according to Dr Kazmi, include traumatic nightmares, flashbacks, intense distress after reminders, negative alterations in mood, irritability and aggressive behaviour.

About PTSD signs in children, he said that they differed from those in adults suffering from the mental illness. “They can develop new phobias and anxieties that might seem unrelated to the trauma, for instance, fear of a monster. Children can also have disturbed sleep or complaints of body aches and pains with no apparent cause. They may skip school or start having bad grades,” he said, adding that often parents overreacted and mishandled the child with the PTSD.

Replying to a question, senior psychiatrist Dr Nusrat Baloch said that the society must not give in to terrorists and should try to live a normal life as much as possible despite facing pressures in life.

Children with the PTSD, according to her, could act in a very strange way. Some might start stealing, run away from home or school or become rude, abusive and absolutely defiant towards authority.

“Repressed memories can come out in a later stage in life and the person can have all kinds of psychological and social problems,” she said, adding that a child with the PTSD should be encouraged to talk and share all their fears.

Crying must not be considered a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s healthy to cry since it helped to heal and feel relaxed, she said.

Children, she said, should be given persistent reassurance that all efforts would be made to keep them safe as family therapy could be the key in psycho-education.

Dr Baloch also underlined the need for offering psychological help to other vulnerable groups like members of law enforcement agencies, ambulance staff, survivors, school teachers and parents of victim families.

During the question-answer session, participants in the meeting shared their concerns over security fears schoolchildren and their parents had been experiencing these days following the Army Public School tragedy in Peshawar.

They strongly criticised the media for what they described as sensationalising the news and said that electronic channels needed to exercise caution in presentation.

Earlier, Sumera Naqvi representing the Karwan-i-Hayat briefed the audience about the organisation’s services.

The psychiatry centre whose building was provided by the Karachi Port Trust had been providing therapeutic and rehabilitation services since 2004 in Keamari, she said.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2015

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