The current attitude toward PTSD is very different from the approaches adopted during the Second World War, when the American General George Patton threatened to use a tribunal for soldiers who were overworked. Today, researchers are rapidly learning more about the causes and treatments of PTSD, and this is encouraging because we now know how common this disorder is.
One former soldier lost control of himself every time his wife baked pies – the smell of almonds was like explosives.
War is one of the typical causes of PTSD. A quarter of American participants in the Vietnam War suffered from this disorder, and 10% of those who are still alive still have its symptoms. Researchers who worked with Syrian refugees in Turkey last year estimated that one in three people had post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it is also common in poor areas where violence is common.
PTSD is more common after repeated injuries than after a single incident. The likelihood of a syndrome is higher if the person who causes the injury is known to the victim. Trauma experienced in early childhood, when the brain actively learns the world and establishes what to fear, makes people more vulnerable in their future lives. Children who are mistreated in the family are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Women are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as men, as domestic violence is a cause of re-traumatization, and women are much more likely to be sexually abused.
The development of PTSD is influenced by what happens after a traumatic event, including the support or distrust of others. Socio-economic conditions also matter. But some situations lead to the development of PTSD even for those who are not at risk.
We try to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially if they resemble a traumatic event. When all of these symptoms become so severe that a person cannot cope with them on their own and live normally in the community, the syndrome becomes a disorder.
One of my patients came to therapy after finding out that her husband (with whom they have been living together for 30 years) had a long distance relationship with another woman. They communicated through social media and never met in person, but for the wife it was still a terrible betrayal and shock. Despite the emotional coldness that had appeared in her relationship with her husband, she felt that everything was fine. The discovery turned her life upside down.
She didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. She couldn’t eat or sleep, she couldn’t control her emotions – the difference from anger to tears happened all the time. But the most unpleasant moment was the intrusive thoughts and scenes that stood before her eyes: their romantic communication, his face the day she found out everything. It was impossible to stop.
Of course, the woman received professional help. But her story is one of the examples of trauma that manifests itself in everyday life. For most of us, the likelihood of PTSD in dramatic circumstances, war or disaster is relatively low. But other types of traumatic events occur at every step. Therefore, it is so important to identify the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. In order for treatment to be right, both the patient and those who want to help him/her must be aware of and appreciate all the consequences of the trauma.