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