Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A Brief Summary of General Information
Table of Contents
It is accepted that PTSD is caused by exposure to trauma in
which the person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an
event or events that involved actual or threatened death or
serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of that
person or others. The person' response involves intense fear,
helplessness or horror.
The symptoms of PSTD include:
- Tension and agitation
- Sleep disturbance including dreams and nightmares
- 'Flashbacks' - intrusive memories and feelings
- Emotional detachment - 'coldness'
- Social withdrawal
- Self-preoccupation and/or egocentric behaviour
- Avoidance of reminders associated with trauma
- Moods swings
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Continual alertness for future emotional or physical
- Physiological reaction such as headaches, stomach
- Poor concentration, loss of confidence
- Alcohol and other drug abuse
PTSD is not a 'new' problem. History reveals that negative
reactions to traumatic events have been known for thousands of
years, only the name is new. The Greeks wrote of it, so did
Shakespeare. During WWI it was known as 'shell shock', and during
WWII the terms used were 'combat neurosis', combat fatigue' or
'combat exhaustion'. Korean War veterans were accused of feigning
illness to gain compensation, and this view persisted until
Current research is tending to show that the intensity of the
traumatic event is more significant than the level of personal
adjustment in determining if someone is likely to suffer from
PTSD is often only noticed after there is a pronounced change
in a person's behaviour. At first the change is subtle,
developing until it occurs more commonly and more rapidly.
It begins with situational stresses until these reach the
personal threshold level, where the traumatised person is
pre-occupied and overwhelmed by the previous trauma.
The individual becomes less able to deal with stress,
frustration and anticipated difficulties. Their often highly
irritated demeanour is increasingly triggered by trivial events.
They 'switch off', becoming emotionally detached and losing
interest in family matters. Clear patterns of emotional isolation
develop, and depressive patterns become more frequent and
Anxiety patterns also become more frequent and pronounced, to
the stage of worrying about things which have been done so often
they should be automatic, and developing into panic attacks.
PTSD is the normal reaction to abnormal events. It is not
related to race, religion, skin colour, education, class or
It is episodic, with situational stress bringing on feelings
related to the traumatic event.
Less commonly, it can link into other psychiatric
predispositions such as manic behaviour.
Triggers are part of the re-experiencing phenomena displayed
by those who suffer from PTSD. They are often unbidden, occurring
without warning. Triggers are not just physical prompts, but can
also be emotional, occurring when the individual is placed in a
situation where the same emotion is experienced. These emotional
triggers include guilt, fear, or lack of control, and they are
just as strong as physical triggers.
Triggers occur unpredictably, and as a result the veteran and
his or her family can be greatly concerned and confused. Sleep
disturbance often results and there are very strong 'fight or
Common triggers include:
- Specific scenes - crowded streets, sunsets, sunrises,
- Movement - someone rushing towards the individual
- TV - even if the story is unreal, the subject or the
environment may cause thoughts which act as a trigger
- Sound - helicopters, songs, unexpected loud noises
- Smell - jungle or bush, rain, smoke, blood, cordite or
- Reading - or discussion about subjects of trauma
- Touch - gun metal, webbing, blood
- Situational - being crowded, walking across open spaces,
feeling vulnerable or not in control
Substance abuse is common, and simply another sign that the
individual is not coping. Self-medication with alcohol or other
illegal drugs, far from masking intrusive memories, actually
accesses them. Abuse of prescribed medication is also common.
PTSD often leads to problematic lifestyles long before
veterans or their families are aware that they are suffering
PTSD. Problems with relationships, substance abuse or similar
problems often arise, and are commonly misdiagnosed as
personality disorders, anxiety, depression or bi-polar affective
disorders. These problems are often episodic or cyclical, and can
precipitate PTSD patterns.
Individuals often become overwhelmed by PTSD symptoms, and can
think only of themselves, and how to survive the situation. This
behaviour may have a bad effect on relationships, including those
at home and at work.
Veterans often have trouble at work in coping with real or
perceived pressure, frustration, the actions of others, and their
emotions about these things.
Medication on its own is often not sufficient to improve
psychological function. Options to discuss with a VVCS
counsellor, local doctor or psychiatrist include counselling,
group work, outpatient or inpatient hospital treatment.
Medication and its effects should be discussed with a doctor
and pharmacist, and partners should be involved in this
discussion. A method of managing medication through Medi-list is
available through the VVCS or DVA.
Based on VVCS Brochure - for further information see Links