Traumatic Stress Disorder

After experiencing a traumatic event, the mind has been known to horde away the
details and memories and then send them back at unexpected times and places,
sometimes after years have passed. It does so in a haunting way that makes the
recall just as disturbing as the original event. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
is the name for the acquired mental condition that follows a psychologically
distressing event "outside the range of usual human experience"
(Bernstein, et al). There are five diagnostic criteria for this disorder and
there are no cures for this affliction, only therapies which lessen the burden
of the symptoms. The root of the disorder is a traumatic event which implants
itself so firmly in the mind that the person may be shackled by the pain and
distress of the event indeinately, experiencing it again and again as the mind
stays connected with the past rather than the present, making it difficult to
think of the future. The research on this topic is all rather recent as the
disorder was only added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental

Disorders (DSM-III) in the last twenty years. Yet, the disorder is quite common,
threatening to control and damage the lives of approximately eight percent of
the American population [5% of men and 10% of women]. Any person is a potential
candidate for developing PTSD if subject to enough stress. There is no predictor
or determining factor as to who will develop PTSD and who will not. Although all
people who suffer from it have experienced a traumatic event, not all people who
experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Each persons individual capacity
for coping with catastrophic events determines their risk of acquiring PTSD. And
not everyone will experience the same symptoms; some may suffer only a few mild
symptoms for a short period of time, others may be completely absorbed, still
others who experience great trauma may never develop any symptoms at all
(Friedman). More than any other psychological problem, symptoms are a reaction
to an overwhelming external event, or series of events. From a historical
perspective, the concept of PTSD made a significant change in the usual
stipulation that the cause of a disorder could be outside of the self, rather
than some inherent individual weakness (Friedman). There are many situations
that may lead to developing PTSD, including: "serious threats to one\'s life
or well being, or to children, spouse or close friends/relatives; sudden
destruction of home or community; and witnessing the accidental or violent death
or injury of another" (Bernstein, et al). Characteristic symptoms include
re-experiencing the event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event or
numbing of general responsiveness, increased arousal not present before the
event, and duration of the disturbance for at least one month (Johnson). When a
bomb exploded the Oklahoma Federal building in 1996, hundreds of lives were
affected. Not only are the people who were in the explosion in danger of
re-experiencing it over and over, but so are the people who witnessed the
aftermath, from bystanders to the rescue workers on scene. The surviving
employees not only were physically injured in the blast, but saw the deaths of
their coworkers and children. Surviving a horrific trauma that many others did
not is enough to cause serious emotional harm. For the rescue workers who
arrived, many of them saw death and people who they could not help; feeling
helpless and guilty may manifest into intrusive recollection and nightmares. To
explain further, the first criteria is that the person was at one time exposed
to a traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or injury, where the
response was marked by intense fear, horror or helplessness (Pfefferbaum). This
event may have taken place only weeks ago, or as far back in memory as forty
years. The disorder is most commonly found among survivors of war, abuse and
rape. It also occurs after assorted crime and car accidents, as well as after
community disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Workers of rescue missions
are subjected to situations of severe stress frequently. Many emergency response
workers (police, nurses, and medics) may become overwhelmed by the trauma they
see so many people go through and end up with intrusive recollections
themselves. Secondly, the trauma is re-experienced in the form of nightmares,
flashbacks, intrusive memories and/or unrest in situations that are similar to
the traumatic experience by an associated stimuli (Pfefferbaum). Auditory or
visual stimuli can evoke panic, terror, dread, grief or despair. Commonly, in
the case of war veterans, the patient may be mentally "sent back" to
the time and location of the