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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychological condition trigged by a traumatic event, such as rape, war, a terrorist act, sudden or violent death of a loved one, natural disaster, or catastrophic accident. It is marked by recurring memories or thoughts of the event, "blunting" of emotions, increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes.
Officially termed post-traumatic stress disorder since 1980, descriptions of post-traumatic stress were documented as early as the Civil War and in nineteenth century train crash victims. In the period between World War I and II, a condition known as "shell shock" or "battle fatigue" was recognized. Initially, it was thought that shrapnel entered the brain during battle explosions and caused small brain hemorrhages. When symptoms occurred in war veterans who had not been exposed to explosions, it was then often viewed as a character flaw.
In the 1970s, during and after the Vietnam War, post-traumatic stress received more serious research and documentation. In 1989, the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was established in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Another benchmark was its addition to the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) published by the American Psychiatric Association. In the past 20 years, those who have been diagnosed with PTSD have been rape victims, victims of violent crimes, and survivors of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and random shootings in schools and the workplace.
Although people of all ages, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds can develop PTSD if exposed to a life-threatening event, statistics gathered from past events indicate that the risk of PTSD increases in order of the following factors:
For example, over a third of the survivors of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City developed PTSD and over half showed signs of anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse. More than a year later, Oklahomans in general had an increased use of alcohol and tobacco products, as well as PTSD symptoms.
Children are also susceptible to PTSD and their risk is increased exponentially as their exposure to the event increases. Children experiencing abuse, the death of a parent, or those located in a community suffering a traumatic event can develop PTSD. Two years after the Oklahoma City bombing, 16% of children in a 100-mile radius of Oklahoma City with no direct exposure to the bombing had increased symptoms of PTSD. Weak parental response to the event, having a parent suffering from PTSD, and increased exposure to the event via the media all increase the possibility of the child developing PTSD symptoms.
Author Info: Mary McNulty, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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