PTSD is Not a Mental Illness. Today PTSD is considered “an anxiety disorder.”
PTSD is an overexpression of healthy mental and physiological processes, namely the fight-or-flight response. “If you think about what happens when you’re in significant danger, your body has a whole host of reactions.” These reactions ready you to either fight or flee a hazard and include a flood of hormones that set you on high alert and prepare your body for a fight or to run. These responses can save your life in a life-threatening situation, but too much of a good thing can be bad. “PTSD is really those reactions gone rogue.”
Symptoms of PTSD may include:
• Re-experiencing the initial trauma via intrusive thoughts, unwanted recollections and memories, nightmares and flashbacks.
• Avoidance of certain activities, particularly difficult emotions and places that remind the individual of the trauma.
• Increased arousal, such as feeling anxious or on edge all the time, being jumpy, having difficulty sleeping, being irritable, having angry outbursts or engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
• Negative changes in mood and thinking that can include mood swings, difficulty focusing or concentrating, depression, isolation from friends and family and apathy.
Trauma survivors must have been exposed to actual or threatened:
- serious injury
- sexual violence
The exposure can be:
- indirect, by hearing of a relative or close friend who has experienced the event—indirectly experienced death must be accidental or violent
- repeated or extreme indirect exposure to qualifying events, usually by professionals—non-professional exposure by media does not count
Symptoms must endure for at least a month before a diagnosis can be made, and not every patient with PTSD will experience all the symptoms. Symptoms may not surface immediately after a traumatic event, but rather may develop months or even years after the initial trauma.
How Common Is PTSD Among Veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among veteran varies depending on which conflict a service member was involved with.
• About 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans (or between 11 and 20%) who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD each year.
• About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD each year.
• About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans (15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD when the most recent study of them (the National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study) was conducted in the late 1980s. It’s believed that 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Another issue facing many veterans is that they come home to high-stress jobs that continue to put them in the line of fire. “Many of our current law enforcement and police and fire fighters are veterans. They’re continuing in a wonderful tradition of fighting for their lives.
Sadly, the worst outcome of PTSD, namely suicide, is also increasing among veterans. The VA reports that there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 through 2016, and from 2005 to 2016, veteran and non-veteran adult suicide rates increased 25.9% and 20.6% respectively. “In 2016, the suicide rate was 1.5 times greater for veterans than for non-veteran adults, after adjusting for age and gender.”
These troubling statistics point to another complication of life after war for veterans – a lack of support and connection to others.
Treatment Is Available
But it’s not hopeless. People with PTSD don’t have to stay in an endless loop of feeling bad. Connecting with networks, particularly of other people who’ve had similar experiences, can be a powerful antidote to PTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the frontline treatment for PTSD and medications can help some individuals as well.
PTSD Can Be a Disability
The severity of the effects of PTSD range from relatively mild—only disruptive to someone’s life—to severely debilitating. When PTSD’s effects are severely disruptive, PTSD is a disability. The American Psychiatric Association (2013) warns that PTSD sometimes has extreme consequences (suicide, aggressiveness, detachment, …) a can be considered a disability for life.
- Social disability
- Occupational disability
- Physical disability
- Absenteeism from work/school
- Reduced educational and occupational success