Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is among only a few mental disorders that are triggered by a disturbing outside event, unlike other psychiatric disorders such as depression.
Many Americans experience individual traumatic events ranging from car and airplane accidents to sexual assault and domestic violence. Other experiences, including those associated with natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes, affect multiple people simultaneously. Dramatic and tragic events, like the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and wars occur, and with media exposure such as we have today, even people not directly involved might be affected. Simply put, PTSD is a state in which you "can't stop remembering." For example, Vietnam Veterans who “can’t stop remembering” the traumatic events of firefights, and other horrific war scenes.
In one out of 10 Americans, the traumatic event causes a cascade of psychological and biological changes known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Wars throughout the ages often triggered what some people used to call "shell shock," in which returning soldiers were unable to adapt to life after war. Although each successive war brings about renewed attention on this syndrome, it wasn't until the Vietnam War that PTSD was first identified and given this name. Now, mental health providers such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and other health care professionals can attempt to understand people’s response to these traumatic events and help them recover from the impact of the trauma.
The typical symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, emotional detachment, hypervigilance, night sweats, and extreme efforts to avoid stimuli that reminds one of the traumatic events. Also prevalent are:
- Flashbacks: Imagine experiencing the most terrifying horror movie you’ve ever seen playing over and over in your mind. You can’t make the images go away. These are the flashbacks so commonly associated with PTSD and usually are thought of in connection with combat veterans in war.
- Emotional detachment: Emotional detachment is a second symptom of PTSD, which is often not as obvious outwardly to anyone other than the person experiencing it. For these people, their emotional systems are in overdrive. They have a hard time being a loving family member. They avoid activities, places, and people associated with the traumatic event. They are simply drained emotionally and have trouble functioning every day.
- Recurring Dreams of trauma.
- An exaggerated startle response to stimuli that reminds one of trauma.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Flat affect.
- Bunkering down - what war veterans do to prepare for battle. (Example: a war veteran who stays in his garage for excessive periods of time preparing for battle.)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder