Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was once called battle fatigue syndrome or shell shock. PTSD may occur after an extremely frightening event or after being threatened by one. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not just for soldiers; rescue workers, immigrants fleeing violence, survivors of accidents, rape or sexual abuse victims can also develop PTSD, as well as their families. Even survivors of hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters can develop PTSD.
Most people, following a trauma, will experience shock and fear, even anger or guilt. PTSD can be a lasting consequence of trauma with feelings that continue or increase. Depression and substance abuse often accompany PTSD. Almost 30 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD. In the military, another cause for the syndrome is sexual trauma. Among veterans seeking VA health care, 23 percent of women reported sexual assault. Even more disclosed sexual harassment while in the military, 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men.
Usually symptoms occur within three months of the event, but in some cases they might not begin for years. Some people recover quickly and for others, it is a lifelong struggle.
Symptoms are grouped into three categories: reliving, avoiding and increased arousal. People with PTSD may repeatedly remember the trauma with flashbacks, nightmares or recurring thoughts. They may become hyper vigilant, searching for danger. They may become increasingly detached and numb toward family and friends. Many trauma survivors forget in order to live with themselves. They may have difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, or even physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, increased heart rate, nausea or diarrhea.
However, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not just for soldiers. Research has found that early, prolonged trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, can cause brain and hormonal changes, which may contribute to learning and memory difficulties and emotional troubles. Those changes may contribute to eating disorders, aggression, alcohol or drug abuse, inappropriate sexual behavior, and other self-destructive activities.
Treatment for PTSD is a slow process. Recovery does not eliminate the trauma; it makes it easier to deal with. Recovery is about learning better ways of coping and releasing fear. During talk therapy, a person is encouraged to remember and express their feelings about it. Desensitization may help it become less frightening. It is also helpful to learn relaxation techniques, especially with flashbacks. Support groups can also be very helpful.
In the U.S. 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will be exposed to a traumatic event during their lifetime. A higher proportion of people who are raped experience PTSD than those suffering any other trauma. Perhaps because of that, there is a higher percentage of PTSD in women than men. Some 88 percent of men and 79 percent of women with PTSD also have other anxiety disorders. Many suffer from depression, social phobia or drug and alcohol abuse.
PTSD was brought to the world’s attention by war veterans, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only experienced by soldiers. So many will be exposed to some sort of trauma, the solutions must become well-known.
By Laurie Stilwell