PTSD goes far beyond shell-shock, affects more than just survivors of war


June is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month, a designation that draws attention to the mental health disorder that can occur after you have been through a trauma.

Normally when you’re in danger, and feel afraid, your body triggers a natural "fight-or-flight" response. "But when you have PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger," states the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Events that might lead someone to develop PTSD include: Combat or war exposure; sexual or physical abuse as a child or as an adult; terrorist attacks; serious accidents; and natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake, according to the National Center for PTSD.

That’s a wide-ranging list of possibilities. And those affected can be of any age or background.

PTSD affects roughly 7.7 million American adults, but it can occur at any age, including childhood, according to NIMH.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found that 11 percent of children surveyed who were at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, during the bombings suffered from PTSD. That rate is about six times higher than the PTSD rate in kids who weren’t at the site of the attack that killed three people and injured 264, per the study.

The Connecticut General Assembly is considering legislation that would include mental health treatments paid for under the state workers’ compensation law for public employees experiencing PTSD after witnessing violent events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

The instances grow more numerous and alarming with regard to our military.

According to a congressionally-mandated study released last year by the Institute of Medicine, as many as 20 percent of veterans returning from service (often numerous deployments) in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, the study found that up to 45 percent of female troops experienced sexual trauma in the military, driving their PTSD beyond what they experienced in combat alone.

Closer to home, the number with PTSD seems to be even higher -- an estimated 25 percent of 3,000 Vermont Army National Guard soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 are dealing with PTSD symptoms, the state surgeon for the Guard announced in May.

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"A significant amount of our soldiers do require some additional behavioral health support to reintegrate after deployments, obviously more with each subsequent deployment," Col. Martin Lucenti, the Guard’s top medical officer, told the Burlington Free Press.

After returning home, there is for many of our military another battle to be fought -- the battle against PTSD.

A May 29 article in the Atlantic said it well: "It’s an existential dilemma for many of us but for the military, the ability to treat anxiety, depression, memory loss and the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder has become one of the most important battles of the post-war period."

So what can we do to help those who suffer from it?

A good start would be trying understanding what PTSD is and recognizing its symptoms, which may include flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts, feeling numb or depressed, feeling on-edge, having difficulty sleeping or having angry outbursts, according to NIMH.

Those with PTSD re-live their trauma over and over again, sometimes with periods of respite.

Ways we can help include simply there to lend an ear and offer support, as well as encourage a loved one with PTSD symptoms to seek professional help. Thankfully, there are treatment options for PTSD sufferers. These include specialized counseling and medicinal therapy.

The term "shell-shock," meaning battle fatigue, was coined after World War II to describe what veterans were going through after they returned from battle. What we know today as PTSD goes far beyond shell-shock, and affects more than just survivors of war.

Our bravest citizens, and our most troubled, need our help and support.

Visit the National Center for PTSD’s website at for resources, links, and stories about PTSD.

~Michelle Karas


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