Even though the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has only been used for about twenty years, the concept of it has been around for over one hundred years. During World War I, it was called Shell Shock, and at the time of World War II, it was referred to as Combat Fatigue. The Vietnam War’s version of PTSD was known as Post Vietnam Syndrome.
Causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Being a victim of, or witnessing violence
- Death or serious illness of a loved one
- War or combat
- Car accidents, plane crashes
- Natural disasters
- Violent crimes
- Terrorist attacks
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Childhood neglect
Or any shattering event that leaves you stuck and feeling helpless and hopeless.
PTSD is not only defined by the intensity of the trauma experienced, but also by a person’s response to the event. After 911, the rate of PTSD experienced by Americans was nothing less than astronomical. Many of whom didn’t personally witness the event.
Patients with PTSD have an increased number of suicides and hospitalizations. For instance, in the case of Bernie Madoff, his son Mark was so traumatized by what his father had done, that he committed suicide.
It has been found that one third of people who experience PTSD will continue to have symptoms ten years after the trauma.
The body’s normal defenses against stress become overwhelmed. A person might re-experience the trauma. He or she might have flashbacks of the event or nightmares. Additionally, external cues can remind them of the trauma. When the trauma becomes re-activated, a person’s original physical symptoms could return.
Total avoidance of the event could also cause symptoms to return. If this happens, depression could ensue. Some of the symptoms could be apathy, loss of interest in activities that the person used to enjoy, detachment, sad affect and hopelessness.
A third way that symptoms could return would be that a person who experienced trauma might be in an extreme state of arousal. Symptoms would take the form of sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating and an extreme startle response.
A person might have any number of these symptoms. If the symptoms persist for over a month, a diagnosis of PTSD is made. Prior to that time, the condition is known as Acute Stress Disorder.
The earlier one gets treatment the better, as symptoms get worse as time goes on. Also, If a person has a health condition, it will become exacerbated by PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD
Immediately after the incident, it is extremely helpful to process your feelings with a therapist. Sometimes groups are helpful because you have the support of people who can relate, as they have gone through similar circumstances. Group members also have the advantage of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when they witness the recovery of others. In many instances, the goal of treatment is to adjust to the PTSD symptoms, master them and then integrate them into their lives, as opposed to eliminating all the symptoms.
In addition, it has been found that desensitization, cognitive therapy and assertiveness training have been found to be better than no treatment at all. Whatever method one chooses, it is vitally important to process the trauma, so that it doesn’t continue to cause distress.
© Carla Black, MA, MFT, ATR -2011