What is PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction that occurs after an extremely stressful event, such as physical violence or military combat. Those suffering from PTSD have recurring memories of the stressful event and are anxious or scared even in the absence of danger. Flashbacks and nightmares are common symptoms as well. 

Not all wounds are physical. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed an event that was perceived to be life-threatening or traumatic can develop PTSD. When an experience overwhelms an individual’s existing coping skills, new and sometimes ultimately harmful methods of processing that experience are formed that can interfere with the way someone functions in their day-to-day life. New coping skills can take several forms, including avoidance of anything that reminds the individual of the traumatic experience, numbing ones’ self to avoid uncontrollable flashbacks to the trauma, and constantly being on edge in order to “prevent” the trauma from happening again. These new coping skills as well as the psychological impact of trauma can’t be seen by the naked eye and as such are likely to go undiagnosed.

Some are especially at risk. Although PTSD can develop in anyone, certain populations with a greater likelihood of experiencing traumatic or life-threatening events are particularly at risk to develop the disorder. According to the Nebraska Department of Veteran’s Affairs some 30% of people who have spent time in an active military zone develop PTSD. Without adequate treatment of PTSD, veterans who have developed the disorder are likely to turn to dangerous coping methods, often alcohol or prescription medications, to either numb themselves to the experience or repress it altogether.

It won’t go away if you ignore it. If left untreated many of the symptoms of PTSD described above can actually get worse over time instead of improving. Additionally, without treatment, veterans and others who have experienced trauma are likely to develop other psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety and are more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

It’s treatable. Despite its prevalence and potential for harm, PTSD is a treatable condition. Remember, PTSD is a set of coping skills that were built up around a traumatic event.  Treatment methods focus on teaching the individual new, healthy coping skills to manage their anxiety, like mindfulnessmeditation and relaxation techniques. The abundance of treatment modalities makes clear that with the right combination of treatment methods, recovery from a traumatic experience and the PTSD it caused is possible.

Traumatic events do not have to take control of our lives. By recognizing the symptoms of PTSD and the people most likely to be affected by it, you can help someone you care for to get help and ultimately overcome the challenges of trauma. We must ensure that treatment is available to all, especially our veterans, if we care about the welfare of all our citizens of this country.