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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or experience.. During this type of event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening. Anyone who experienced a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include, but are not limited to:

  • Combat or military exposure
  • Hostile fire
  • Sustaining injuries
  • Witnessing the death of comrades
  • Being captured
  • Sexual or physical assault

After the event, you may feel scared, confused, or angry. You may also experience difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and/or experiencing emotional peace. In other instances, you may experience recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event(s). You may also act or feel as if the traumatic event were recurring (DSM IV), and/or react physically to internal or external cues that resemble an aspect of the traumatic event (i.e. physical reflexes). If these feelings don’t go away or if they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities.

Development of PTSD:

  • Since psychology had not gotten off the ground by the time the Civil War had ended and because psychological phenomena were just beginning to be understood, researchers today argue that only in retrospect can one study PTSD in members of the Civil War (Talbot, 1996). What is known of the Civil War stems from personal narratives, letters, and diaries of the veterans. Coupled with this lack of understanding was the cultural tendency to push this psychological phenomenon under the rug so to speak.
  • In World War I, “shell shock” was considered a psychiatric illness resulting from injury to the nerves during combat. The large proportion of WWI veterans in the European population meant that the symptoms were common to the culture, although it may not have become popularly known in the US. The overwhelming mental fatigue was diagnosed as “soldier’s heart” and “the effort syndrome”. The official designation of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” did not come about until 1980.
  • With few exceptions, up until DSM-IV, most combat veterans were diagnosed with “shell shock”, which didn’t warrant long term treatment. Other combat veterans were merely diagnosed with “bad nerves” which not only didn’t warrant long term treatment, but also induced a “get over it” attitude from the military and medical communities. This type attitude was personified in the movie “Patton” when General Patton, played by George C. Scott, threatened apparently uninjured military hospital patients with malingering.
  • Although now a formal medical diagnosis, PTSD continues to be a phenomenon of intense study and scrutiny, particularly due to the variety of recently discovered factors such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that may cause or exacerbate PTSD. Widespread onset of TBI has fueled an ever growing rate of reported cases of PTSD among veterans deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Recent studies indicate reported cases of PTSD, depression, and anxiety increasing over time following deployment to combat theaters:

    3- 4 Months post deployment – 15-17%
    3-12 Months post-deployment – 19-21% (same group)

  • As of May 2008, the percentage of those veterans diagnosed with PTSD or other mental illness is 41.1%

Links and Resources

National Center for PTSD
Mental Health Self-Assessment Program
Department of Veterans Affairs
Vet Centers
Wounded Warrior Project
Vets 4 Vets