Traumatic events and experiences can affect individuals for a long time. Though it’s often associated with combat veterans, post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects people from all walks of life. Because no one is immune to PTSD, it can benefit anyone to learn more about this potentially debilitating yet treatable condition.
What is PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.” Some examples of events that can lead to PTSD include war or combat, a terrorist attack, rape, or incidents in which people have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury. Intergenerational trauma is also a large contributing factor of PTSD.
PTSD also can occur after witnessing traumatic events, including natural disasters or serious accidents.
Is PTSD new?
PTSD has been around as long as there have been traumatic events, though its name is more recent. The APA notes that PTSD has been known by various names in the past, including “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.” These names are no longer used in part because they give the impression that post-traumatic stress is exclusive to combat veterans. That’s a misperception, as the Sidran Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps people understand and recover from PTSD, notes PTSD will affect one in 13 people in the United States and nine per cent of Canadians at some point in their lives.
Who can get PTSD?
The APA notes that exposure to an upsetting traumatic event is necessary before a diagnosis of PTSD can be made; however, that exposure can be indirect. For example, police officers who are repeatedly exposed to details of heinous crimes can develop PTSD even though they are not victims of those crimes and did not witness them. But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that individuals are more likely to develop PTSD if they are directly exposed to a trauma or injured.
What are some symptoms of PTSD?
The APA places symptoms of PTSD into four categories:
- Intrusion: Symptoms in this category include intrusive thoughts, such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
- Avoidance: People with PTSD may avoid reminders of the traumatic event. These reminders can include places, activities, objects, and even people. Individuals also may resist talking about the event and how they feel about it.
- Alterations in cognition and mood: PTSD can result in an inability to remember details of the traumatic event. Individuals also may develop negative thoughts and feelings that lead to ongoing and distorted beliefs about themselves and others. Individuals may blame themselves for the event or experience ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame. A sense of detachment or estrangement from others also may occur.
- Alterations in arousal or reactivity: Symptoms in this category may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; reckless, and potentially self-destructive behaviour; being overly watchful of surroundings; being easily startled, or experiencing difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
PTSD affects people from all walks of life. Individuals who are having difficulty processing a traumatic event they were directly or indirectly involved with are urged to contact their physicians immediately. More information about PTSD is available at www.psychiatry.org.