PTSD. An acronym many of us suffer from, sometimes diagnosed, sometimes not.
The History of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that develops when a person is exposed to a highly dangerous, very terrifying, possibly life-threatening event. While most people tend to associate PTSD with soldiers, this emotional disorder can develop in other people who have also experienced extremely stressful events that are outside the range of what is considered to be a normal human experience.
While PTSD has likely been around for centuries, only as recently as 1980 has the American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially added PTSD to its Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The criterion that the American Psychiatric Association uses to diagnose PTSD includes:
•A person has been exposed to a catastrophic event involving actual or perceived death or injury. This event must be characterized by intense fear.
•The duration of the PTSD symptoms last at least a month.
•The person experiences significant occupational, social or other distresses as a result of the PTSD.
•The person starts to avoid anything that will cause them to re-experience the event. He also general experiences a numbing effect that interferes with his personal relationships.
•The person tends to be in a state of hyper arousal that results in him being startled very easily and being vigilant to the point of paranoia.
•The traumatic event persists as a dominating psychological experience, typically causing a person to experience flashbacks of the event from other stimuli.
Early History of PTSD
Because people have been experiencing extremely stressful, potentially life-threatening events for centuries, clearly PTSD is a condition that has plagued humans for quite some time before the APA officially recognized it as an emotional disorder.
In fact, throughout our history, PTSD has been called a number of other different names, including:
•battle fatigue or gross stress reaction for soldiers who came down with PTSD after World War II
•combat fatigue or shell shock for soldiers who experienced PTSD symptoms after World War I
•soldier's heart or "Nostalgia" for soldiers who developed the symptoms of PTSD after the Civil War.
Unfortunately, before the medical community recognized PTSD as a viable emotional disorder, most leaders and doctors thought it was simply nothing more than cowardice or personal weakness.
PTSD in Modern Times
Although PTSD was largely disregarded for decades, the Vietnam War brought significant public attention to this emotional disorder when doctors began to diagnose it as post-Vietnam syndrome. The Vietnam veterans who suffered from this disorder pushed the medical and the military community to recognize it as a legitimate disorder.
Today, about 7 percent to 8 percent of the general population will develop PTSD. These numbers go up significantly for veterans and rape victims, among whom PTSD has anywhere from a 10 percent to 30 percent chance of developing.
PTSD and Popular Culture
The general public has learned a lot about PTSD thanks to the movie and film industry. In fact most people have learned about the syndrome by viewing PTSD in film. Films about the Vietnam War, such as Apocalyse Now, The Deer Hunter and Born on the Fourth of July, have all featured Vietnam veterans who end up having to deal with the issues that come with PTSD. These films have been well-received by audiences, which tells us that, as a culture, humans are very interested in how other people deal with traumatic events in their lives.
Not only has the film industry captured the realities of PTSD, books and novels also explore this subject. Phillip Cavuto wrote A Rumor of War, which is considered to be one of the classic works on the subject of PTSD. In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien is another excellent work about a Vietnam vet who struggles with PTSD.
Current Iraq War PTSD Statistics:
•While less than 10 percent of the general population will develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, one in six soldiers returning from Iraq suffer from it.
•Enlisted men are twice as likely than military officers to report PTSD.
•American women serving in Iraq tend to suffer from more severe and debilitating forms of PTSD.
There once was a very simple description of PTSD that was "A Normal Reaction to an Abnormal Event."
As both a proffesional credentialed Counselor and a person with personal experience in this area, I've treated many with this bane of combat. It should be noted that a person does not have to have been in combat to suffer from PTSD. It can be a result of a life truama such as witnessing something catastropic such as the death of a loved one or friend, or having experienced some form of sexual abuse.
Law Enforcement Officers who have been involved in shootings may develope PTSD or Chronic Stress Disorder from repeatedly being exposed to traumatic scenes and experiences.
If you suspect that yourself, a loved one or a friend may be experiencing PTSD, there is help and treatment, and just as importantly, there is HOPE.