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Common misconceptions make things worse than they are already – the reality of post traumatic stress disorder.

A perfectly natural emotional reaction to a very shocking experience, there are recorded instances of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) dating from the sixth century BC. It has been called shell shock, combat stress, combat fatigue, battle fatigue, child abuse, rape trauma and battered wife syndrome, transient situation disturbance, tunnel disease and many other names in many different situations. The name Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was first applied in the 1980 DSM – the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Back in World War 1, PTSD – in the days when it was known as shell shock – was considered by British Army officers to be cowardice and many victims ended their lives before a firing squad. Similarly, in World War II, it was known as lack of moral fibre or LMF. Today it is often labelled as stress, and as in the wartime cases, implication of inability to cope with the given situation is frequently implied. Unlike the injuries caused by physical impact of some kind, those of psychological trauma are not as likely to be recognized. People often do not realise that this kind of trauma may be even more devastating than physical injury.

PTSD is the constant flashbacks, re-experiencing – and uncontrollable mental replaying of – the traumatic event or situation. Thoughts and feelings associated with the event intrude involuntarily during both waking hours and sleep – sometimes months or years after the disturbing experience took place. Such thoughts become disturbing enough to cause withdrawal from normal activities – both in themselves and due to the many additional problems they cause. These include:

  • inability to concentrate.
  • memory impairment.
  • panic attacks.
  • fear.
  • obsessiveness.
  • depression.
  • emotional numbness.
  • nervousness and anxiety.
  • hypersensitivity.
  • irritability, uncontrollable anger and even violence.
  • shame, embarrassment and guilt.
  • low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
  • physical pain (usually joint and muscle).
  • detachment.
  • avoidance behaviour.
  • physical and/or mental paralysis triggered by any reminder of the experience.

Recognition of the symptoms in oneself or others is the first step toward recovery. There is a normal grieving process after a loss or tragedy but, when the loss or tragedy involves a sudden traumatic event, it is several weeks or months after the tragedy occurred that the feelings of loss become evident. Everyday situations become overwhelming, interest in normal tasks and activities is lost. The victim becomes isolated from friends and family and, often, reliance on alcohol or drugs develops.

The antidepressant Zoloft is used in the treatment of PTSD, usually in combination with psycho-therapy which, naturally, is of great importance in helping people who are chronically scarred by severe trauma.

Copyright Jean Jardine Miller.


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