As PTSD Awareness month comes to a close I wanted to take the time to write a little bit about this disorder and the individuals who might suffer from it. Let me start by saying that traumatic responses are normal responses to abnormal situations. Similarly, not everyone who experiences a trauma will suffer from PTSD.
Let us examine for instance, an individual who may have almost lost his or her life in the military. It would be a normal response for that person to experience symptoms of traumatic stress (e.g., intrusive memories, nightmares, etc.). That person over the course of the following several weeks may notice that those symptoms get better and not end up suffering from PTSD. However, another person may experience the same exact situation in the military and instead of symptoms getting better over time; the symptoms may continue or worsen more than a month later. This person may be suffering from PTSD at this point. There are many reasons why different people may experience the same trauma but have different responses, including but not limited to: biological differences, thought pattern differences, perception of the trauma, and differences in environment and support system.
In the example above, we examined the difference that an individual may have after experiencing a military trauma. It is important to note that PTSD affects individuals who may have never been in the military. I can recall numerous sessions in which an individual was describing symptoms of PTSD and when I bring to her or his attention that I would like to assess for PTSD he or she says “I thought that was something that only people in the military might get…” It seemingly continues to be a misperception of the public that PTSD is isolated to a certain population.
The reality is that any person exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s): direct exposure, witnessing the trauma, learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma, or indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma may be at risk of suffering from PTSD. As you can see, trauma that puts an individual at risk of experiencing PTSD stems beyond any certain environment or population.
It is my hope as counselor that the public will become aware of how trauma can affect a person, whether or not that person suffers from PTSD and that we as a nation will able to identify when a person needs professional help for symptoms that may have reached the level of PTSD. Once PTSD is identified, early intervention can make a big difference for those who suffer from it.
1) American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
2) Image from https://www.khanacademy.org/science/health-and-medicine/mental-health/anxiety/a/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-article