PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a condition that can arise after a person has experienced a traumatic event, or has been in, or witnessed, a life-threatening event. Although symptoms of PTSD are varied, generally they are grouped into three main categories:
- First is a category known as “re-experiencing,” meaning that the person is troubled my memories, dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic incident.
- Secondly, the person develops marked avoidance and numbing of emotions. This means that, in an effort to sidestep those troubling reminders, they begin to avoid people, places, or things that “trigger” their troubling memories. They may experience a sense of detachment and isolation from their loved ones as well as activities they used to enjoy, and the combination of these two factors can lead to a progressively more restricted life, as they increasingly curtail activities and social interaction.
- Lastly, there tends to be a marked increase in anxiety, which can include irritability, anger outbursts, trouble sleeping, becoming easily startled, or engaging in self-destructive behavior (e.g., excessive drinking) in order to calm or control this anxiety.
Although signs of PTSD often start within three months of the event, in some people, these signs can take years to arise. Additionally symptoms of PTSD can come and go, depending on what is happening in the person’s life and their overall level of stress.
PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to veterans returning from Vietnam, and was originally described as “shell shock.” However, we now know that it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as child abuse (of all types), rape and sexual assault, mugging, terrorism, being an accident victim, or natural disasters. PTSD can also arise from more common experiences, such as witnessing the injury, illness, or death of a loved one, or even witnessing or being exposed to a particularly violent event in your community or the news.
Currently, the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) estimates that PTSD affects 7.7 million American adults. Other authors suggest that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 7.8%, with women having double the rate (10.4%), then men (5%), due to the fact that they are more commonly the victims of abuse and violence.
Given these rates, it is clear that exposure to combat is not the only way in which a person can be traumatized. And although our comminutes are slowly becoming better able to acknowledge the presence and effects of PTSD in veterans, thanks in large part to massive federal efforts dedicated to reduce suicide rates in soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that we are not so good at providing the same level of support for non-combat related PTSD. For example, in 2010 Congress named June PTSD Awareness Month and has created and sponsored numerous events to raise awareness and reduce stigma. However, it seems clear, after a quick review of the events to be held, that the large majority of them are dedicated only to veterans. And although veterans certainly deserve these efforts, I wonder why it is that everyday people, the ones who are most likely to struggle with this condition to begin with, are being ignored and bypassed in these efforts? It is my hope that PTSD Awareness Month will build momentum and that we will use this great force to benefit all people suffering from PTSD, regardless of the cause of their distress and whether or not it included being in combat.