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Psychologicalaspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
ThePsychological Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Traumashatters the psychological innocence of soldiers in a war zone. Theexperiences make members of the armed forces completely new persons.The exposure to war, blood, fire, and physical combat creates theloss of feeling safe, and the person has a feeling of constantanxiety. The soldiers search for a place where they can retreat to inan effort to diminish these feelings. Traumatic events are not easilyprocessed and absorbed in the mind because of their overwhelmingnature. The trauma disturbs the individual, disturbing their normallives until they seek help.
Researchshows there is a correlation between post- traumatic stress disorderand wartime events such as witnessing explosions, deaths of friendsand fires. There is a strong relationship between events of war andcombat and psychological disorders. Data collected from letters anddiaries of soldiers who took part in the civil war confirm thepresence of psychological disorders. A common psychological disorderresulting from the exposure to combat is Post Traumatic StressDisorder. The other psychological disorder that affects war veteransis Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) (Ford, 2013).
Maguen,(2013) describes Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a mentaldisorder resulting from exposure to traumatic incidences. Witnessingor experiencing a terrifying event triggers the mental healthcondition. Maguen argues that, a person diagnosed with PTSD must haveexperienced an extreme traumatic or stressing event to which he/shereacted with fear, helplessness, or horror. The military veteransare, in many ways, exposed to traumatic events. For example, thesoldiers often experience massacres, or one might see several injuredsoldiers at the battle zone.
Traumaticevents have ability to evoke fear, horror, or helplessness inresponse to that threat. Exposure to such horrific events putindividuals at the risk of suffering from PTSD, panic disorder,depression, substance abuse and generalized anxiety disorder. Inaddition, persons with PTSD may have physical illnesses includingasthma, hypertension, and chronic pain syndromes. They are alsopotentially suicidal (Yehuda, 2002).
Symptomsof Humans Suffering from PSTD
Avoidancerefers to avoiding reminders of the traumatic incidence, whichinclude places, people, and thoughts associated with the event(Maguen, 2013).
Re-experiencing/reliving the event
Itrefers to unwanted recollections of the event. Reliving takes theform of nightmares, distressing images, flashbacks, intrusivethoughts and physical activities, and includes re-experiencingphysical symptoms whereby the body ‘remembers (Maguen, 2013).’
Theseare psychological manifestations, which include irritability,insomnia, hyper-vigilance and impaired concentration. Individualsalso develop emotional numbing whereby they are detached from othermembers of the society and show less interest in activities theypreviously enjoyed (Maguen, 2013).
Thereare other non-specific symptoms of PTSD such as shortness of breath,nausea, insomnia, and reluctance to undergo certain types ofexamination. For example, rape victims feel uncomfortable whileundergoing a gynecologic examination (Yehuda, 2002)
Physiciansfirst recorded PTSD-related symptoms over 3000 years ago and 4000years before they became accepted in the medical spheres. Thesoldiers in Ancient Egypt and Greece also experienced PTSD-relatedsymptoms. In the 17th Century, anyone exhibiting the symptoms of PTSDwas termed ad nostalgic or melancholic. After the First World Warthat PTSD gained recognition and was termed as “Shell Shock”since its effects were manifested, on the returning war veterans, inthe form of involuntary and uncontrolled shaking. Later, in 1980,PTSD was included in the diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (Ford, 2013).
Accordingto Yehuda (2002), a physician can easily identify the PTSD symptomsbut he/she misdiagnoses patients if he or she omits asking patientsquestions specifically addressing their past traumatic experiences.The misdiagnosis is due to the similarity between PTSD symptoms andthose of depression and other anxiety disorders. The author furtherasserts that medical practitioners may refrain from asking patientsabout distressing events that may involve shame or secrecy tosoldiers. On the other hand, patients may avoid talking about suchevents without being pushed to do so. This situation creates abarrier for PTSD patients to be correctly diagnosed and treated(Yehuda, 2002).
Differentpeople react differently to traumatic events depending on the personaffected and the nature of the event. Most people react with fear totraumatic incidences. The person’s previous experience and thesubjective nature of the individual’s interpretation greatlyinfluence this reaction. Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic eventjeopardizes an individual’s sense of safety and leads a person tofeel powerless and vulnerable. In order to recover from the event, aperson needs to confront the state of vulnerability throughdeveloping resilience. Biological responses, however, may affect thestate of fear that affects the restoration of the state feeling safe.An individual can be overwhelmed by the state of living in constantfear. Consequently, this fear interferes with coping and lead aperson to avoid feelings and thoughts of associated with a traumaticevent (Friedman et al., 2010).
Soldierschange greatly due to experiences in war. They display combinationsof PTSD symptoms when they return from war and try to readjust to thecivilian life. They commonly experience insomnia, hyperactivevigilance, and nightmares caused by their previous interaction in thewar zone. The symptoms are intense especially for those who haverecently joined the war front. However, many of these symptomsdecrease over time as the individuals adjust to civilian life (Hogeet al., 2004).
Opportunitiesto diminish fear responses are often reduced by avoidance. Avoidancemakes it impossible to expose information that could correct theexaggerated feelings of unsafe and fear in the person affected. Thepatient feels fragile and, as a result, the development of copingstrategies is impeded. This further encourages the disruption of theoccupational, social, and interpersonal life of the person sufferingfrom PTSD (Yehuda, 2002).
Manysoldiers blame themselves because of failing to control the situationthat resulted in a traumatic event. They feel that they could haveaverted the situation had they acted in a certain way. This situationleads to the development of feelings of humiliation, guilt, anger,and horror in response to the tragic events. The soldiers try toavoid these distressing thoughts related to the traumatic events.However, if they are to recover from the feelings, they need toacknowledge changes that have occurred are because of the traumaticincidences. Overtime, the traumatic thoughts and the emotionalresponses reduce after the affected person learns to adjust to thepast occurrences. Learning to confront these situations and feelingsthat accompany them is the sure way of starting the healing process(Friedman et al., 2010).
Arecent research found that one out of five veterans involved in theIraqi and Afghanistan War suffered from PTSD or major depression.These figures concur with those reported in other scientificstudies. The research also indicated that 16% of returning officersfrom the war in Iraq were diagnosed with mental health disorder afterscreening (Hoge et al., 2004).
Impairmentin general functioning of the body and physical health among warveterans can also be related to mental health problems. Those peoplediagnosed with PTSD experience difficulties in many areas of theirlives such as occupation, careers and in relationships. For example,the soldiers returning from the war and are suffering from PTSD misswork, have lower ratings on general health, and have more symptoms ofPTSD even in comparison to these who were wounded or injured(Friedman et al., 2010).
Manycountries in the past years took part in international war within butthe research done to address the mental repercussions of soldiers whokilled their fellow human beings in war is minimal. However, researchon other areas that are potentially traumatic, for example,witnessing a friend being killed is sufficient. Some studies indicatethat elements of war can later result to chronic PTSD amongindividual who are exposed to them. These include receiving fire,firing a weapon, mutilation, and killing of civilians, discomfort,and fear that these soldiers experience in the war-zone. These areassociated with severe PTSD symptoms that the soldiers experiencelater on. A study conducted on the Vietnam War indicated acorrelation between a soldier taking life during war and PTSD.Soldiers returning from war demonstrated association between killingand mental health problems. There are other studies underway toexamine the effects of killing on soldiers who are returning from theIraqi and Afghanistan wars (Hoge et al., 2004).
Treatmentfor Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is available. Psychotherapy is aneffective method of treating this psychological disorder.Psychotherapy is a process where the therapist helps the patient toprocess the trauma and integrate and remember it like any othermemories. Patients learn to think about the event without havingstress, and express their feelings through writing or speaking aboutthe event. At first, this therapy deals with coping, restoration ofsafety, calming the nerves and making the person talk about theexperiences. Psychotherapy includes exposure to the trauma in a safeway. Through talking, the cycle of avoidance is interrupted. Throughtherapy, trauma survivors are provided with a chance to tell theirstory. Patients come to terms with happened and to feel lessisolated. Patients can distinguish between feelings and emotionsoccurring due to traumatic incidences. Trauma survivors can makesense of what happened in the past and its effects on them.Ultimately, they can restore connections and relationships in theirlives (Maguen, 2013).
Inconclusion, the process of recovery does not only involve the patientand his/her therapist. The whole community should take part inhelping war veterans recover from PTSD. The victims should beprovided with enough information to understand their condition. Moreimportantly, the community should surround the veterans of war withfeelings of safety and support them as they cope with the traumaticexperiences. Victims should know that their reaction of anger,irritability and hypervigilance are due to dealing with PTSD, andthey are not indicators of their bad character. They should not beexposed to criticism.
Ford,S. A. (2013) Suffering in Silence: Post traumatic StressPsychological Disorders and Soldiers in the American Civil war.ArmstrongUndergraduate Journal of History.3(2)
Friedman,M. J., Keane, T. M., & Resick, P. A. (2010). Handbookof PTSD: Science and practice.New York: Guilford Press.
HogeH.W., Castro, C.A., Messer, S.C., Dennis McGurk., Cotting, D.I. ,Koffman, R.L. (2004) Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mentalhealth problems, and barriers to care.New England Journal of Medicine.351(1): 13-22. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa040603
Maguen,S. (2013). Soldiersof Conscience: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Web.Retrieved on August 25, 2014 fromwww.pbs.org/pov/soldiersofconscience/special_ptsd.php
Yehuda,R. (2002). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thenew England Journal of Medicine,346(2): 3-7.