Since the term post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first coined in 1980, doctors have learned that the disorder is much broader than its common association with combat victims, manifesting in many other situations as well. It has been reported that children and teens who are witnessing the conflict in the Gaza strip are currently suffering from PTSD. It is common for people who live in violent neighborhoods to suffer from PTSD. It is also normal for victims of abuse to suffer from PTSD. Doctors have even likened the effects of workplace bullying to those resulting from post traumatic stress disorder.
Some people feel that comparing the ravaging effects of war with being abused or bullied in the workplace is somehow diminishing the significance of the war experience, but by its very definition PTSD can include any devastating life experience that leaves a person feeling helpless and overwhelmed. PTSD can result from any horrifying life altering event that leaves a person shattered, hopeless and unable to cope. Some specific events include rape, murder, assault, abuse, war and natural disasters. Other triggers might include being kidnapped, robbed at gunpoint or getting hurt in a car accident. All of these incidents can cause haunting memories.
Many people do not realize that post traumatic stress disorder can have a much broader association. It can impact more than the battle-scarred person who experiences the trauma. It can affect those who witness the trauma, including family members of the victim, officials, police or fire personnel who come to the aid of the victim or, in the case of the workplace, the co-workers who witness the harassment.
It is normal to be disturbed after a traumatic event, but after a while, as time goes on, most people are able to process the feelings and move on with their lives. Not so with those who suffer from PSTD. The hallmark of this disorder is the inability to leave the traumatic experience in the past. People who suffer from PTSD continue to re-experience the event. They will find ways, sometimes with substances, to avoid memories of the event and frequently sufferers of PTSD will suffer from heightened emotional distress, always vigilant about keeping those memories away.
In children, the symptoms can manifest in different ways. They often regress in their development, being afraid of losing their parents, becoming clingy and acting out in other ways. Often these children have problems sleeping and may continue to replay the incident(s) in nightmares or through play.
Treatment for PTSD can be just a varied as the symptoms. Some people respond well to medication and most do well with therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy is based on the premise that recalling the trauma and exploring the feelings and emotions associated with the traumatic experience can help sufferers to process the feelings and heal from the emotional turmoil.
Many therapists and doctors agree that confronting the memories is the first line of defense but those who suffer from PTSD are warned that recovery is a slow process. Healing does not occur in one day. The important thing, whether post traumatic stress disorder is thought of as being limited to victims of combat or in terms of its broader association, is to get help.
By Constance Spruill