Shell Shock & PTSD

Instructor: Nicole Gaines

Nicole is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a master's degree in counseling.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common diagnosis for survivors of war, abuse, disasters and many other traumatic events. In this lesson, we will take a closer look at PTSD, who is at risk and how it is treated.

What Is PTSD?

Shell shock, combat exhaustion, soldier's heart, and stress response syndrome. If you were suffering from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder prior to the 1980s, these are a few of the labels doctors and clinicians would have used to try to describe a particular mental heath state.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as a particular anxiety disorder that is triggered by a traumatic event. For example, if you were a soldier and had experienced the horrors of war and constantly felt as though your life was being threatened, you may develop PTSD. However, it's not just war veterans who develop PTSD; many different kinds of people are afflicted by it.

PTSD is triggered by a traumatic event and can affect anyone at any age.

Who Is At Risk?

With PTSD, there is no discrimination. Anyone of any age who has been to war or who is a survivor of physical or sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters or another serious event has a risk of developing PTSD. For example, many people have developed PTSD from the September 11th events in NYC and the mass shootings we have experienced more recently.

Children diagnosed with PTSD show signs and symptoms a little differently than adults. Many children feel as though there were signs leading up to the event, and therefore as if they can predict future trauma if they are watchful. They can also get the timeline of events mixed up more easily.

Teenagers are often more impulsive and aggressive than children and adults. Common problems with teenagers experiencing PTSD include associating with a dangerous or risky group of friends, substance abuse and self-harm.

If you can recognize the signs of PTSD in a child or teenager early on, you might be able to get them treatment.
woman with PTSD

It is important to remember that not everyone with PTSD has experienced a traumatic event first hand. For example, you might develop PTSD after a friend or family member's life is threatened or harmed. Some people even develop it through constant exposure to the traumatic events of others - for instance, first responders or, again, soldiers. And, what is traumatic to you may not be for someone else.

What Are the Symptoms?

If you have experienced trauma yourself or through a close loved one, or you frequently are exposed to traumatic stories through your occupation (first responder, soldier, etc.), there are multiple signs and symptoms that a doctor or mental health clinician can recognize in order to diagnose you with PTSD. These include experiencing one or more of the following after the event:

  • You relive the event
  • You have nightmares about the event
  • You experience flashbacks to the event (feeling like it is really happening again)
  • You experience ongoing emotional distress
  • You experience physical symptoms, such as nausea or a headache, if triggered by something that reminds you of the event

In addition, one month after the event you experience:

  • Avoidance of situations/things that remind you of the event
  • Not remembering important parts of the event
  • A negative view of yourself and the world
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • A feeling of detachment from friends and family
  • A feeling of being emotionally numb
  • Being easily irritable
  • Anger outbursts
  • Engagement in self-destructive behaviors (substance abuse, risk-taking, etc.)
  • A feeling of needing to always be on guard (hypervigilance)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychotherapy is a vital treatment for PTSD.
psychotherapist and patient

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