Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD)
The term post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) first came into being
after the Vietnam War, but in fact this was actually another way of describing “shell shock” or “battle fatigue
syndrome” as experienced by soldiers in the 1914-18 First World War who had suffered harrowing torment in the
PTSD became a recognized mental health condition in 1980 when the American Psychiatric
Association published the phrase in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
But is has only been in relatively recent times that post traumatic stress disorder has been
used to describe the state people can succumb to when experiencing traumatic events other than war. Serious road
accidents, terrorist attacks, natural or man-made disasters, being subjected to kidnap or hostage-taking, sexual
assault, muggings, robbery, physical assault, and witnessing violent death are all situations that could cause
someone who has been subjected to or has witnessed these events to enter a state of shock or PTSD. Being told you
have a life threatening disease is another situation that could cause PTSD. In fact any situation that leaves
someone feeling extreme fear, terror, or helplessness can lead to post traumatic stress disorder. In some cases,
PTSD comes as a result of more complex psychological events such as being the victim of sexual abuse or violence as
a child, and is more deep-seated because of the length of time that the abuse has been going on.
The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder usually strike immediately following the
traumatic event, but on occasion the PTSD can appear weeks, months, or even years later. But when they do appear,
they can hit hard, become persistent, or constant, and sometimes severe depending on the exact nature of the
trauma, and how it affects the individual. Generally, the person suffering post traumatic stress disorder is
re-living the harrowing event through nightmares during sleep and flashbacks during the day, which usually includes
repetitive images and sensations of the traumatic experience. These can be so intense that the fear, smells,
sounds, and pain endured during the traumatic event are frighteningly real in the mind when re-lived. And the day
time flashbacks can be triggered all too simply, for instance if someone witnessed a child drowning in a river on a
rainy day, then waking up to a rainy day can bring back the horror of witnessing that event.
Many people feel grief-stricken, angry, guilty, anxious, or depressed following the trauma.
The PTSD they then experience makes day-to-day life difficult and painful, leading to sleep deprivation, feelings
of isolation, and detachment. People with PTSD can also become irritable and jumpy, start relying on alcohol or
drugs, experience irregular heartbeats, and muscle aches and pains, as well as the feelings of fear and panic, and
being depressed. Other reactions include becoming ‘hypervigilant,’ always being on guard, looking out for danger.
This makes it harder for the PTSD-sufferer to relax, and makes it even harder to sleep at ease. Some people with
post traumatic stress disorder will immerse themselves in a hobby, or work long hours to keep their minds busy, and
distracted doing their best to not remember the traumatic event. Communication with people becomes lessened as the
person with PTSD starts to become emotionally numb, and detached from society, avoiding people and places that may
trigger any association in any way with the event that caused the trauma.
The more disturbing the experience, the worse the PTSD is likely to be. Situations that will
probably lead to severe cases of PTSD are sudden and unexpected, go on for a long time, are man-made, involve
children, cause many deaths, result in mutilation or loss of limbs, or involve being trapped with no
Post traumatic stress disorder occurs for psychological reasons, as well as physical. When a
person is frightened they remember things very clearly even though it can be distressing to do so. But the brain
remembers these things in an effort to help us understand what happened, which in the long run is a survival
response. This also applies to the flashbacks. The replays force a person with PTSD to think about what has
happened so they might be better-prepared if it happened again. But that is why PTSD-sufferers adopt avoidance and
become numb because it is tiring to remember stressful events.
On the physical side, people with PTSD having vivid memories of a trauma will be experiencing
high levels of adrenaline, because adrenaline is a hormone our bodies create to combat stress. It is this
adrenaline that makes the PTSD-sufferer feel tense, irritable, and unable to relax. The adrenaline also affects the
hippocampus in the brain. It is the hippocampus that processes memories, so when there are high levels of
adrenaline getting in the way, the memories are prevented from being processed properly. For the stress to be
reduced in the person with post traumatic stress disorder, adrenaline levels need to be returned to
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