Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

A young woman gets mugged and hit over the head with a pipe. Years later, she is still afraid to go out at night by herself. She has trouble making friends and she is slow to trust people. She has gotten several warnings at work for missing days; sometimes she just can’t seem to get out of bed. A former soldier, when he finally sleeps, finds himself back on the dusty roads of Afghanistan. He awakes in a panic and struggles futilely to return to sleep. Days are hardly better. The rumble of garbage trucks shatters his nerves. Flashbacks come unexpectedly, at the whiff of certain cleaning chemicals. He is imprisoned in his own mind.

Like these two people, more than 5 million people in the United States alone suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And like these two people, PTSD can often go hand-in-hand with traumatic brain injury, the symptoms overlapping into indistinct colors.

What exactly is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event. These events can include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Car crashes
  • Sexual or physical assaults
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Combat during wartime

During a traumatic event, people think that their life or the lives of others are in danger. They may feel afraid or feel that they have no control over what is happening. And if the person has a TBI, too, these feelings of lack of control and fear can balloon into confusion, challenges with memory, or intense emotion.

Combat-related PTSD has existed as long as war itself. The condition was called “soldier’s heart” in the Civil War, “shell shock” in World War I, and “Combat fatigue” in World War II. Despite the fact that the condition has been around for thousands of years, it is sometimes still difficult, or controversial, to diagnose.

Signs and symptoms

Generally, symptoms of PTSD can occur when a person re-experiences the traumatic event, tries to avoid thinking about the event, or is experiencing high levels of anxiety related to the event. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Having recurrent nightmares
  • Acting or feeling as though the traumatic event were happening again, sometimes called a “flashback”
  • Being physically responsive, such as experiencing a surge in your heart rate or sweating, to reminders of the traumatic event
  • Having a difficult time falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger
  • Feeling constantly “on guard” or like danger is lurking around every corner
  • Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event
  • A loss of interest in important, once positive, activities
  • Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love

Not all people who are traumatized develop PTSD; but for those who do, treatment brings hope.

Getting treatment

As with depression or anxiety, getting the right treatment for PTSD depends a great deal on the individual. Sometimes counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective; medicines known as SSRIs can help, too, like Zoloft or Paxil. Sometimes a combination of both therapies proves successful. Treatment can help people with PTSD feel more in control of their emotions and result in fewer symptoms, but some symptoms like bad memories or super-sensitivity to sounds and lights may linger.

Here are some strategies to help with PTSD:

  • Find a therapist.
  • Join a support group or other support services.
  • Find a peer mentor.
  • Meditate.

Sometimes PTSD, especially in conjunction with TBI, can lead to unhealthy behavior like substance abuse or taking unnecessary risks. Sharing your experiences, feelings, and fears with others, whether with friends, family, or a professional, can lessen the burden.


More Resources

MoodJuice Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Self Help Guide
Learn more about Post Traumatic Stress and skills to cope with it.

PTSD Association of Canada
A non-profit organization dedicated to those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals, as well as bringing together society at large to form an ocean of compassion, awareness, knowledge and tools necessary for recovery.

National Centre for PTSD (U.S.)
The National Center for PTSD is dedicated to research and education on trauma and PTSD. We work to assure that the latest research findings help those exposed to trauma. – PTSD and Suicide
Read this guide which states, “connections between the experience of a traumatic event, PTSD and suicide risk have been found.” See: There is Hope: Seeking Help.

Can I go back there? Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder
View this 2012 lecture by Camillo Zacchia published by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and the Mental Health of Military Personnel and Veterans
Discover this Canadian government Parliamentary Information and Research Service paper that notes each year, over 20% of all veterans can be expected to suffer from the symptoms of operational stress injury, which will take the form of severe PTSD for half of them.

PTSD Resolution
UK outreach programme helps veterans and TA struggling to reintegrate into a normal work & family life because of military post traumatic stress suffered as a result of service in the armed forces.

Stars and Stripes: Military study shows increase in suicide attempts, PTSD symptoms
Article reveals, “a wide-ranging DoD survey revealed the rate of servicemembers attempting suicide has doubled in recent years, coinciding with an increase in those reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and those abusing prescription drugs.”

Additional Resources and Guides