PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has been around since humans first started clubbing each other to death over food sources or fleeing hungry predators. One of its first mentions in literature is in Homer's The Odyssey which chronicles the Greek warrior hero Odysseus' ten year journey home from the Trojan War somewhere around the 12th or 11th centuries B.C.
As well as the trauma of combat and the deaths of his fellow warriors at the hands of the Trojans, Odysseus encounters continuing terrors on his voyage home such as being shipwrecked, encountering a six-headed sea monster that swallows twelve of his men, a cyclops that eats two of his men before Odysseus slays him. And if that's not enough, when he returns home he's forced to do battle and slay numerous suitors hitting on his wife who's never given up hope that he'll return. Wow! If that's not enough cause for PTSD I don't know what is.
PTSD has been reported by various names in all of our modern wars: "Soldier's Heart" in The Civil War, "Shell Shock" in WWI, "Battle or Combat Fatigue" in WWII and PTSD in Vietnam and now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Vietnam and the experiences of Viet vets that really brought PTSD into the forefront of public, government and medical awareness and recognition as a real disorder.
But while combat is most prominently associated with PTSD, it's not limited to that. By its most simple definition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), PTSD is being personally exposed to or witnessing a life-threatening situation such as a motor vehicle accident, natural disaster, being the victim of violent crime, wild animal attack, to name just a few. It was found that people developed PTSD symptoms watching the 9-11 Twin Tower attacks on TV.
So what are the diagnostic criteria for PTSD as defined by the APA? Symptoms are generally grouped into four types:
* Intrusive memories such as nightmares about the event, distressing memories of the event, reliving the event as if it were happening again (flashbacks).
*Avoidance--Trying to avoid thinking about the event or avoiding places, activities or people that are reminders of the event.
*Negative changes in thinking or mood--Hopelessness about the future, lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities, emotional numbness, memory or concentration problems, inability to experience positive emotions, suicidal thoughts.
*Changes in emotional reactions--Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior, easily startled or frightened, hypervigilance, always on guard for danger.
The above symptoms are only a few that define PTSD and a certain number have to be present and persist longer than thirty days to be diagnosed as PTSD. A person's boss may have yelled and humiliated them in a staff meeting and, while they were shocked and felt threatened, can't stop thinking about it and are having difficulty sleeping, they do not have PTSD. Remember the life-threatening requirement.
Symptoms may vary in intensity over time and circumstances such as being under stress or running into reminders of the event. A car backfire or balloon popping at a kid's birthday party may cause a combat vet to dive for cover. And people may experience some of these symptoms immediately or shortly after the event or months and even years later. It's still PTSD.
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings that last more than a month or are getting more severe, feelings of losing control over life or are having suicidal thoughts, talk to a health care professional as soon as possible to prevent PTSD symptoms from worsening. We don't have a time machine yet that can go back and undo the past and delete the traumatic event, but with timely professional help it's possible to control the symptoms of PTSD rather than them controlling us.
Next Time: THE PHYSIOLOGY OF PTSD