Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was once regarded as a disorder that was rare and only impacted those who were struggling to come to terms with trauma.
In fact, PTSD was not defined as a mental health condition by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980. And while anyone who has endured trauma can experience the effects of PTSD, it was our veterans – traditionally viewed by society as “tough” and “masculine” – who were initially thought to be the only ones who suffered from this condition.
The lack of awareness about PTSD and the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment only worsened that suffering. Estimates suggest that as many as 12% of veterans who served in the Gulf War were experiencing the effects of PTSD, some even turning to suicide to end the struggles they were facing each day.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the symptoms of PTSD have been documented as early as the Civil War. What we now know to be PTSD has gone by a variety of names over the years – shell shock, war neuroses, battle fatigue, combat stress reaction. It wasn’t until after research on veterans of the Vietnam War that the term post-traumatic stress disorder was coined. While symptoms and terminology were debated, one thing was clear: the trauma that many veterans experienced during their brave service had a significant impact on their ability to transition back to civilian life, in some cases making it nearly impossible to live a normal day-to-day existence.
Those who suffer from PTSD may experience nightmares and flashbacks, avoid situations and people that remind them of the event, and be irritable, anxious or hyper-alert to potential danger. They may also have feelings of guilt or develop other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and phobias. Oftentimes, symptoms present in a physical manner including dizziness, sweating, shaking, stomach problems and chest pain. These have a negative impact on work or personal relationships, and, as is often the case with many mental health conditions, will not go away without treatment.
Over time, extensive research has illustrated the causes and symptoms of PTSD, and we now understand that it can impact anyone, not just combat veterans. This can include survivors of assault, violence, abuse, natural disasters or life-threatening medical diagnoses. PTSD can develop whether you directly experienced an event or simply witnessed it. Sometimes, even the knowledge of a traumatic event happening to a loved one is enough to cause PTSD.
In the years since a formal diagnosis was developed, there have been significant improvements in treatment options and a more compassionate understanding of those experiencing PTSD. You might notice things like signs encouraging you to not set off fireworks on the Fourth of July in an effort to prevent flashbacks for veterans living in your neighborhood. I encourage you use PTSD Awareness Month to learn more about and help raise awareness for those who are impacted.
To any person, veteran or otherwise, suffering with PTSD – know that you are not alone. Do not be afraid to reach out for help and seek professional mental health treatment if necessary.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Amy Pietrowski is an Oxford-based attorney at Pietrowski Law Practice, working primarily in DUI Defense, Criminal Defense and Family Law. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. View her complete bio: https://apietrowski.com/about/