It wasn’t until 1980 that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of mental disorders—but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before then. It just means that the suite of symptoms resulting in some individuals who experienced a traumatic event was given a name and a more direct pathway for treatment.
Most people are pretty familiar, at least in a vague sense, with PTSD, but let’s include a definition from the National Institute of Mental Health:
“When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare it to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.
PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”
PTSD really came to the attention of the public through the experience that veterans have had with it. However, it is important to note that PTSD is not limited to veterans. It can happen to anyone who experiences trauma, but it doesn’t happen to everyone who does.
Prevalence data indicates that among U.S. veterans, PTSD effects 2-17% of the population. Study results are variable, but there is no question that PTSD represents a significant cost to veterans and their families and more and more research is being conducted into the causes and treatments. So, it’s important to be aware that veterans you know may be grappling with it—for it can certainly inform how you provide them with adequate support, as a friend, care giver or loved one.
Adult individuals with PTSD can experience a range of symptoms that include:
- Bad dreams
- Scary thoughts
- Avoidance of certain places or events
- Emotional numbness
- Powerful feelings of guilt, depression, worry
- Disengagement with activities they used to love
- Memory loss in relation to traumatic events
- Tense or edgy, easily startled
- Problems sleeping
- Anger management challenges
PTSD is interesting in that it can begin shortly after a traumatic event or years after a traumatic event. There is clear evidence that in the case of aging veterans, PTSD can arise or return decades after their experience in the service. Reasons for this are often tied to regular circumstances of aging that include:
- Medical problems; feelings of vulnerability
- Increased sensitivity to bad news
- Changes in coping habits
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) elaborates on this and also talks about Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (Loss), in which older veterans experience symptoms similar to PTSD, later in life, as they reflect back on their life experiences.
In our previous blog post, we talked about things you can do to help aging veterans, and many of those tips apply to veterans experiencing PTSD or LOSS. What’s really important is that if you suspect a veteran is suffering from these conditions, that you be sensitive to how you interact with them and also try to take steps to get them appropriate help. Mental health professionals who specialize in these conditions are key players in helping provide the appropriate care and resources.
The VA’s National Center for PTSD can help you find the resources you need and there are also several organizations that provide support. Two of these are:
There are also unique programs offered to vets that honor and address the needs of those with PTSD symptoms, like the Veterans Yoga Project.
We will continue to add resources to our support section, so please check back there frequently for additional information that can help you support the veterans in your life.