Post traumatic stress disorder was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-III (DSM-III) in the 1980s. Post traumatic stress disorder falls into the broad diagnostic category of anxiety disorders. But unlike most anxiety disorders post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be traced back to a single or reoccurring traumatic incidence. The trauma may be triggered by natural disaster, for instance, fire, earthquake, flood, hurricane, etc. Or PTSD may be a response to; an act by individuals, rape, assault, war, torture, motor vehicle accident, etc.

PTSD may develop when a person is exposed to a traumatic event where they feel fear, helplessness or horror. After the event the victim may relive the experience through nightmares, flashbacks, and vivid memories. To manage their stress, the victim may avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. Those who experience PTSD may feel a numbing of their emotions which can lead to relationship difficulties. They may experience disturbed sleep and intense feelings of guilt. In some instances, they are unable to remember specific details of the event. Typically, the victim is over aroused or vigilant, and is easily startled or quick to anger.

Survivor guilt is widespread among those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Survivor guilt is where the individual feels guilty because they believe their actions were not sufficient to assist the victim or they should have been the victim. The DSM-V suggests that statistically women are more likely to experience PTSD due to rape, sexual assault or domestic violence. Not all those who experience PTSD are the direct victims of a traumatic event. Individuals who are witnesses to a traumatic event may also experience PTSD.

Professional employees in the police force, fire brigade, health workers, armed services, and the state emergency services, etc., are also at high risk of developing PTSD. Statistically it is difficult to estimate the number of people suffering from PTSD in any community or worldwide. It is evident that individuals who are exposed to severe trauma are more likely to develop PTSD than those exposed to low level traumatic events. For instance, refugees from war torn countries fleeing persecution may experience chronic PTSD. Men may be the hidden victims of PTSD. Research suggests that men are predisposed to self medicate with alcohol and drugs rather than seek professional help.

There is strong evidence that it is the proximity to an event that may lead to the development of PTSD. Proximity can be understood in connection to the aerial bombing of London during the Second World War. Bombs were falling all over London but most residents were in underground bomb shelters. Research suggests that the Londoners who did not directly experience the bombing, did not go on to develop PTSD.

PTSD is the one disorder for which mental health professionals are sure of the cause. Someone experiences a trauma and then they develop a disorder. But the difficulty is in identifying who may develop PTSD after a traumatic event. It appears there is a combination of biological, psychological and social factors that may influence the development of PTSD. Some research has indicated that it may be the intensity of the exposure to events. For example, combat exposure contributed to PTSD for many Vietnam war veterans. In contrast 67% of prisoners of war from the Vietnam conflict developed PTSD. Which implies that for some reason the other 33% who also experienced long-term deprivation and torture did not develop PTSD.

PTSD is more likely to develop in individuals who have a vulnerability towards high levels of anxiety. This can be particularly true for individuals who come from a family with a history of anxiety. Other factors which may influence the susceptibility to PTSD is behaviour. An individual’s general behaviour may lead them into situations where they will experience traumatic events.

As similar to other anxiety disorders, the recommended treatment for PTSD is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. The medications Prozac and Paxil are effective in treating the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Currently cognitive behaviour graded exposure therapy is recommended for the treatment of PTSD. Anxiety provoking psychotherapy has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of PTSD.

Christopher Swane - Depression and Anxiety Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand