Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an illness that can develop when a person is exposed to traumatic events. While most people tend to associate PTSD with soldiers, this emotional disorder can develop in anyone who has experienced trauma. According to the National Center for PTSD (2008), roughly 8 percent of the general population will develop the disorder at some point.
While PTSD has likely been around for centuries, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) didn’t officially add this condition to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980.
The criteria that the APA uses to diagnose PTSD include exposure to a catastrophic event, involving actual or perceived death or injury and intense fear. To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must experience trauma, and then suffer some combination of the following symptoms for at least a month afterwards:
- Avoidance of anything that might cause the person to “re-experience” the event
- Numbing effect that interferes with personal relationships
- Persistent state of hyper-arousal
- Significant occupational, social or other distresses.
The traumatic event persists as a dominating psychological experience, causing flashbacks of the event from other stimuli.
Early History of PTSD
Evidence suggests that people have suffered from PTSD throughout history. As early as 480 B.C., the Spartan commander Leonidas reportedly dismissed men from combat because they were psychologically and emotionally spent from prior battles. By 1678, Swiss military physicians were some of the first medical professionals to recognize the symptoms and behaviors that characterize PTSD, using the term “nostalgia” to describe the condition.
Because people have been experiencing extremely stressful, potentially life-threatening events for thousands of years, PTSD has been given various names:
- PTSD symptoms were described as “soldier’s heart” or “exhaustion” during the Civil War.
- During WWI, PTSD symptoms were known as “shell shock.”
- During WWII, soldiers with PTSD symptoms were said to have “battle fatigue,” “combat fatigue” or “gross stress reaction.”
- In 1952, the APA listed what we now know as PTSD as “stress response syndrome.”
Unfortunately, until the medical community recognized PTSD as a real disorder, many people thought it was nothing more than cowardice or personal weakness.
PTSD, Vietnam and the Medical Establishment
Although PTSD was largely ignored for decades, the Vietnam War brought significant public attention to this emotional disorder. Doctors began to diagnose PTSD as post-Vietnam syndrome. Vietnam veterans who suffered from PTSD pushed the medical and the military community to recognize it as a legitimate condition.
PTSD is now a recognized medical condition known to produce emotional, behavioral and physical changes. Due to this recognition and a large volume of scientific research, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD have improved dramatically in recent decades. If you are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, visit your doctor to begin healing and enjoying your life to its fullest again.
Bentley, S. (2005). A short history of PTSD: From Thermopylae to Hue soldiers have always had a disturbing reaction to war. Retrieved June 29, 2010, from: http://www.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2005_03/feature_HistoryPTSD.htm.
Military Veterans PTSD Reference Manual. (2001). History and definitions of PTSD. Retrieved June 29, 2010, from: http://www.ptsdmanual.com/chap1.htm.
National Center for PTSD. (2008). How common is PTSD? Retrieved July 3, 2010, from: http://ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_how_common_is_ptsd.html.