Decades ago PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) was called “shell shock.” A British psychologist named Charles Samuel Myers first used the term to describe the “thousand yard stare” or vacant look and accompanying stress disorder that many of the soldiers of World War I suffered. Myers noticed that soldiers who had experienced intense bombardment suffered bouts of panic, insomnia and fear long after the danger had passed.
The term shell shock was replaced in World War II by two new terms: combat stress reaction and combat fatigue, but these terms were typically used to describe short-term reactions to battle and danger. Because not all soldiers suffered from shell shock, the military and public tended to fault the soldier and his moral fiber rather than lay blame on the horrific situations that these young men were forced into.
PTSD was first used in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association in conjunction with returned Vietnam War soldiers. But trauma that is suffered long after a horrific event is nothing new. Many ancient texts reference a condition similar to PTSD. These include The Epic of Gilgamesh, Greek and Roman texts from 4607-377 BCE and numerous Bible stories. Today, people who work as police officers, firefighters, first responders, journalists and military are at greater risk for developing PTSD. We now know that PTSD can happen to anyone who has witnessed or been involved in a tragic event.
Hope is on the horizon for PTSD sufferers
The good news is that there are proven therapies that help sufferers of PTSD. These therapies are varied and people tend to respond differently to these therapies. Therapies that work include:
- Art therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Group therapy
- Psychological therapies such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (changing thought patterns)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (envisioning goals and developing coping skills so that acceptance can be attained)
- Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR helps people reprocess the traumatic event and all of the negative and harmful thoughts, ideas and beliefs that are attached to the event)
- Prolonged exposure therapy (PE uses breathing, self reflection and anxiety relief techniques to bring the person to a point where they can face the memory of the traumatic event without experiencing the uncomfortable physical reactions)
Not everyone who is exposed to trauma will suffer PTSD. Experts cite that between 20-30% of people who are exposed develop PTSD. Current research at Tufts University uses neuroimaging to further understand PTSD and anxiety disorders and how to help people who suffer from these. While there is no magic pill yet, hope is on the horizon.