Mental Health Matters: Understanding post traumatic stress disorder

By Judy Cook
Special to the Herald Democrat

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an issue that impacts a great many veterans and a great many other individuals. It is important to know and recognize the symptoms.  PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)  is a disorder which can effect anyone who is sufficiently traumatized, whether the trauma is from specific attacks on a person like rape, or other trauma such as combat trauma or experiences in  concentration camps, or even living near the volcano Mt St. Helens. PTSD was described by Shakespeare and Dickens, and was described in Civil War veterans, but wasn’t really recognized in the psychiatric diagnostic manual until the Vietnam war.  Of course, war has it’s own kind of trauma as people face their own mortality, and witness deaths and injuries in others.  

    The symptoms of PTSD are varied, depending on the nature of the trauma, as well as many individual factors.  Diagnosis does require an event of major trauma, the symptoms must last at least a month and quite commonly can include recurrent distressing recollections of the event, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, exaggerated startle responses, restricted affect, restricted bonding with or even avoidance of others and addictive behaviors.  A frequent issue which causes flashbacks in  combat veterans is a sudden loud noise, such as fireworks, that would remind them of a gunshot or other type of explosion. This can generate an immediate and sometimes unexpected response from a traumatized individual. However, there are also certainly many things which happen and can cause a person to re-experience their trauma.

    The most important thing to recognize here is to be alert. If you or someone you know has experienced a major trauma, this may indeed develop into PTSD and should not be ignored or discounted. Whether an individuals is someone who has been under combat fire, seen colleagues killed, been raped, been badly abused, witnessed terrifying things as a small child or even experienced something natural but terrifying, like a volcano, tornado or hurricane, this person is a  candidate for PTSD.  Indeed, there are people who can come through such events seemingly unscathed, and others who may not experience symptoms until many years later, but for others the trauma it takes an immediate and heavy toll.  

    As we move through this election season, let’s take a moment the time to be thankful for our freedom, for our veterans and our democracy. Let’s recognize that there are individuals we know that may be hurting very deeply from combat or other traumatic life events and let's be encouraging to  those who are hurting to seek help openly versus suffer quietly.  

Dr. Judy Cook

Dr. Judy Cook is a retired Psychiatrist with extensive experience as a Public Speaker and Bestselling author, who lives in Sherman, Texas. Read a variety of her behavioral health articles on The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.