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
VA Dropped Rule Requiring Proof for PTSD Trauma
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has dumped a policy requiring combat veterans to verify in writing that they have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event before filing a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the past, a veteran had to provide written verification such as a statement from a commander, doctor, psychologist, or testimony from family, friends, co-workers, and war buddies, that the veteran was involved in a traumatic war-time event in order to receive disability compensation for PTSD from VA. Accordingly, the Department of Defense (DoD) uses the same rules in evaluating PTSD for disability retirement pay for active duty service members.
In the future, veterans will be diagnosed with PTSD through a medical examination with no further proof necessary. Former VA Secretary James Peake approved the measure in 2008 and made sure all VA regional offices were in compliance.
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Highlight - PTSD Research
According to latest PTSD research, trauma changes the brain. Studies show that the impacts of physical and mental trauma are measurable. In more recent years, research is starting to examine the long-term effects of post traumatic stress disorder PTSD). The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and millions of veterans and their loved ones are personally invested in those results.
Currently, the VA estimates that 11 - 20% of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans live with PTSD daily. VA estimates reveal that 12% of Gulf War veterans live with PTSD. With even higher rates, VA estimates show 30% of Vietnam veterans suffer from the debilitating effects of PTSD.
Researchers are starting to look for that link between mental health and the decline of brain function. In 2010, a National Center for Biotechnology Information study found veterans with PTSD were at a nearly two-fold higher risk of developing dementia.
Mechanisms linking these important disorders need to be identified with the hope of finding ways to reduce the increased risk of dementia associated with PTSD.
Research shows that PTSD is a common military psychiatric syndrome associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality and is one of the most common sequelae in veterans returning from combat. Among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the prevalence of PTSD has been estimated as 17%. In addition, PTSD can be a chronic condition remaining with veterans for a lifetime. Vietnam veterans have been found to have a 20% to 30% lifetime prevalence of combat-related PTSD and 10% to 15% had the disorder 15 years or longer after returning from Vietnam, before being diagnosed. A study of older World War II and Korean veterans found that the PTSD prevalence remained as high as 12% even 45 years after combat.