Arlene Brewster, PhD
Arlene Brewster, PhD


What Does It Mean: Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

My niece was recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder. I thought that PTSD is something that only happened to soldiers in battle. She has never been in the military. Why was she diagnosed why this condition?

Post-Traumatic Stress disorder is most commonly associated with soldiers who have been in combat. The ancient Greek poem The Odyssey describes Ulysses as having symptoms of PTSD as he struggles to return from the Trojan War. The condition we now call PTSD was labelled as “shell shock” in WWI and “battle fatigue” in WWII.

Symptoms of PTSD occur after a person suffers an event in which there is actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to psychological integrity such as rape.   Symptoms include feelings of intense fear, helplessness, horror, anger and a sense that there is no escape.  This experience can be the result of an attack or calamity such as a fire or explosion.  Symptoms can also appear as a result of an ongoing situation such as sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of anything that reminds the person of the experience, numbness, a sense of estrangement from other people, an inability to remember aspects of the trauma, and heightened anxiety or depression. While these feelings are common among most people who go through a traumatic event, they usually abate within a short time. Persons with PTSD have symptoms that persist longer and are more intense and debilitating.

Some researchers distinguish between simple trauma (a one-time event) and ongoing trauma which leads to more complex and long-lasting difficulty. Someone with repeated deployments, or repeated sexual or physical abuse often has a more severe and long lasting case. Childhood trauma often affects the developing nervous system and personality and subsequent symptoms can be more pervasive. The ability to cope and regulate emotions and to attain a level of calmness is often impaired as result of early trauma.

One of the few benefits of war is that it can spur development of more effective medical and psychological treatment. We now have a better understanding and better treatment methods, including improved medications for PTSD. People diagnosed with this syndrome have increased treatment modalities available.  People suffering from PTSD should be aware that the syndrome does not imply weakness, but  is a normal, painful reaction to their exposure to traumatic events.



© Arlene Brewster, PhD. All rights reserved.