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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that some people develop after a particularly stressful or terrifying experience. The more science examines it, the more it becomes clear that this serious mental illness can be caused by any extreme or dangerous event in a person’s life.
Healthcare experts and physicians are not entirely sure why one person suffers from it while another person, who lived through the same harrowing event, does not.
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 5.2 million adults cope with it each year.
It did not receive an official diagnosis until the American Psychiatric Association (APA) included it in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), “the bible of psychiatry”, in 1980. Though it wasn’t in the DSM, psychiatrists had noticed for decades some soldiers who had survived combat exhibited similar symptoms.
- Early on, the condition was referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”
Signs – Symptoms
The symptoms are painful and, very often, lead to other mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and addiction issues. Some of the symptoms include the following:
- Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again
- Distressing and recurrent memories of the trauma
- Severe emotional and physical distress in reaction that trigger negative memories
- Overwhelms guilt and shame
- Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking to excess or driving dangerously
- Difficulty maintaining once close relationships
- Hopelessness about the future
Diagnosis – Treatment
For anyone suffering from this disorder, proper diagnosis and treatment can help ease symptoms and allow individuals to begin working through the trauma. Physicians can prescribe certain medications to reduce symptoms of anxiety, and therapy in the form of counseling and support groups are also effective.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological approach that helps change the way victims act and feel by altering their patterns of thinking and behavior. Individuals learn to identify memories that make them feel anxious or afraid and replace them with less distressing images and thoughts.
- CBT is effective therapy. It is the standard of care of the U.S. Department of Defense as it relates to mentally traumatic injuries.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has also proven very effective therapy
Though it’s been combat veterans who have received much of the public’s attention, the condition can be caused by any serious trauma. This can include circumstances such as:
- Childhood neglect and physical abuse
- Sexual assault and molestation
- Car accidents
- Terrorist attack
- Natural disasters
- Life-threatening medical diagnosis
- Getting mugged, robbed or held at gunpoint
For some, long-term trauma that’s lasted over a period of time creates an even more painful and difficult condition.
Complex PTSD is when a victim experiences chronic trauma over that continues to repeat over months or years. Psychiatry has acknowledged that the current guidelines regarding it do not completely capture the harm that recurrent and sustained trauma creates. These types of prolonged circumstances can include the following:
- Long-term domestic violence
- Long-term prostitution
- Repeated child sexual abuse
- Prisoner of war and concentration camps
- Organized human slavery rings
These types of traumatic events can virtually rewire a person’s brain, changing everything from their self-perception to their ability to regulate emotions. Treatment for it is similar with an emphasis on addressing interpersonal difficulties and becoming empowered in order to once again experience feelings of safety.