During WWII, My uncle served on a carrier ship that was subjected to several suicide bombing attacks by Japanese planes. After he returned home, he would often wake up screaming, thinking that he was still aboard ship, dodging bombs and planes as he fought for his life. Even in the daytime, he often sat in a chair not speaking to or responding to anyone for hours at a time, apparently reliving those shipboard horrors. In those days, this disorder was called, “shell-shock.”
Another relative, a survivor of WWI, returned home seeming to be his old happy-go-lucky self, even though he had been gassed in the trenches in France, and had survived being shot several times. Before the war, he had been a steady, reliable worker, but, for some reason, after the war, he began to wander from job to job, holding some for only a week or two before quitting to head off to greener pastures elsewhere. He crisscrossed much of Canada and then the United States, while his family waited anxiously for him to settle down. He never did, and eventually became a hopeless alcoholic. Would this behavior today be called, wanderlust, as it was then, or a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder?
A young man I went to school with was drafted to serve in a later war, and, shortly after he returned home, went into the woods with a gun and killed himself. He had always been a quiet kid. Were the horrors of war too much for him? Was post traumatic stress disorder responsible for his death?
One of the best definitions of post traumatic stress disorder I have seen is, “the inability to forget an unusually traumatic experience.”
The three instances I related above were all connected, in some way to war, but the actual definition does not limit post traumatic stress disorder just to war. Other areas where it commonly occurs are following vicious rapes and various other forms of abuse. Some post traumatic stress behavior can be traced back to serious illnesses and the treatment necessary to combat them, horrible traffic accidents, or natural disasters. A hostage situation or being a witness to, or a victim of torture are other events that might trigger post traumatic stress disorders.
Of course, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that all uncharacteristic behavior is due to post traumatic stress disorder. It isn’t. Some people just go through emotional highs or lows for a short time and then resolve whatever problem was bothering them. Since there are about as many symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder as there are people who suffer from it, check out the links provided with this article if you are interested in finding out more about the subject and what you might need to look for if you suspect a friend or family member is showing some sign of the illness.
When you see continued unusual moods and behavior from someone you know, ask yourself if that person has been in a situation where they feared for their life. Did something horrible happen to them or to someone else while they observed it? Were they absolutely helpless to do anything about it? Is the behavior you are observing unlike the person’s usual behavior? Is the behavior harmful to the person or those around him? Does the person seem extremely depressed? If the answer to several of these questions is, “yes,” it is time to suggest to them that it might be wise to talk to a doctor about what they are going through.
Since post traumatic stress disorder often leads to extreme depression, anxiety attacks, alcohol or drug abuse, and social phobias, it should always be diagnosed by a doctor. If you suspect that someone you care about is suffering from this disorder, make sure he or she receives care from a doctor who is skilled in this area.