Can A House Fire Cause PTSD?

The 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy caused 72 deaths. For the more than 200 people who escaped, a report released almost a year later said that most of them were suffering from PTSD.

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological condition caused by a traumatic or terrifying event. Sufferers experience anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms, sometimes for years after the incidence.

Not just direct victims of the Grenfell fire were suffering from PTSD. Family members of those who died or were rescued from the fire also showed signs of the condition.

Children, too, showed signs of PTSD.

One of the most traumatic events

A house fire is one of the most traumatic things many people will ever face. So it makes sense that anyone who has gone through one would develop PTSD.

And as the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy shows, you don’t have to be a direct victim of a house fire to start experiencing debilitating anxiety and nightmares.

Having a family member who was affected by a house fire or even just witnessing your neighbour’s house going up in flames can trigger PTSD.

The risk is of course higher if it was your house that burned down. Even if you weren’t injured, loss of valuables and treasured possessions can cause symptoms associated with PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Professional intervention is essential in treating PTSD. The sooner it’s identified the quicker treatment can begin. Here’s how to tell if you, a family member of a friend has PTSD after a house fire.

  • Persistent memories about the event long after it took place. This can happen even after you’ve rebuilt your life.
  • Vivid flashbacks and nightmares about the event.
  • A negative emotional or physical reaction to anything that reminds you of the fire such as a piece about a house fire in the news.
  • Avoiding talking about the fire.
  • Heightened stress and anxiety levels that interfere with work and your social life.
  • Being easily startled.
  • Destructive coping behaviours such as drinking.
  • Children affected by PTSD tend to re-enact their frightening experience through drawing, colouring and play.
  • In extreme cases, one may begin to develop suicidal thoughts. If you begin to experience such thoughts, call the Samaritans helpline at 116 123. If you think you’ll hurt yourself, call the emergency number 999 or 112.

Note: There is no definite timeline for the appearance of these symptoms. They can appear one month or years after the house fire.

Can PTSD be treated?

Yes, it can.

If PTSD symptoms persist for more than a month and you begin feeling like your life is spinning out of control, see a doctor or counsellor.

Early intervention can prevent the development of more severe symptoms.

Treatment typically involves a combination of professional counselling and personal self-care.

In cases of severe symptoms that seriously affect your health, work and relationships, the doctor may prescribe medication.

Medication can reduce anxiety, help you sleep better and improve your overall mental wellbeing.

The best intervention will depend on the severity of your condition is and the specific symptoms you are experiencing.

What can I do if I have PTSD symptoms?

In addition to seeking professional help, it’s important that you take care of yourself.

Get enough rest, talk to someone you trust, find a hobby or activity to keep you busy and eat a healthy diet.

There’s also some evidence that regular exercise can help you recover from PTSD.

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