Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


The symptoms of PTSD are a normal response to an overwhelming experience
If those symptoms continue beyond three months then the person is considered to have PTSD
Sometimes PTSD surfaces months or even years after the initial trauma
Psychiatrists categorize symptoms into three categories

Intrusive symptoms are when a person has the traumatic event intrude into their current life
This can happen in sudden, vivid memories that are accompanied by painful emotions
Sometimes the trauma is reexperienced
This is called a flashback, and it can be so strong that the individual thinks that he or she is actually experiencing the trauma again or seeing it unfold before his or her eyes
The flashback can occur in nightmares
Or it may come as a sudden, painful onslaught of emotions that seem to have no cause


Avoidance symptoms affect the person's relationships with others
Because he or she often avoids close emotional ties with family, colleagues, and friends
The person feels numb, has diminished emotions and can complete only routine, mechanical activities
When a flashback occurs, the person may spend energy trying to suppress the fast amount of emotions which they are feeling
Often, they are incapable of responding appropriately to their environment
They frequently say that they can't feel emotions
Especially towards those to whom they are closest
They may seem to be bored, cold or preoccupied
And family members or friends often feel rebuffed by the person because he or she lacks affection and acts mechanically
Emotional numbness and diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities may be difficult for the person to explain to a therapist
And therefore, the observations by family members, friends, and others are very important

The person with PTSD may also avoid situations that are reminders of the traumatic event because the symptoms may worsen
Over time, people can become so fearful of particular situations that their daily lives are ruled by their attempts to avoid them
Many war veterans avoid accepting responsibility for others
Because they think they failed in ensuring the safety of people who did not survive the trauma
Others may feel guilty because they survived while others did not
In combat veterans, this guilt may be worse if they witnessed or participated in behavior that was necessary to survival but unacceptable to society
Such guilt can deepen depression as the person begins to look on him or herself as unworthy, a failure, or a person who violated their own pre-disaster values
The inability to work out grief and anger during the traumatic event means that the trauma will continue to control their behavior without their being aware of it
Depression is a common product of this inability to resolve painful feelings


Another symptom of PTSD is hyperarousal
This means that those who suffer from PTSD act as if they are still being threatened by the initial trauma
They may become irritable, have trouble concentrating or remembering current information, and may develop insomnia
Exaggerated startle reactions may occur, such as diving for cover when they hear a car backfire or a string of firecrackers exploding
Hearing a helicopter fly overhead can cause the veteran to experience a panic attack
Panic attacks may make the person feel sweaty, have trouble breathing
Their heart rate increases, and they may feel dizzy or nauseated
Physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches are common


It is also important to remember that many people with PTSD also develop depression
And may at times abuse alcohol or other drugs as a "self-medication" to blunt their emotions and forget the trauma
They may also have poor control over their impulses, and may be at risk for suicide

Treatment for PTSD can restore a sense of control and diminish the power of past events over current experience
The sooner a person is treated
The more likely they are to recover from a traumatizing experience.
Psychiatrists play an important role in treatment if they can truly understand the Vietnam Veteran
They need to help the veteran to accept that the trauma happened to them, without being overwhelmed by memories of the trauma
Also, the support and safety provided by loved ones is critical
Friends and family should never tell the person to "snap out of it," or "get over it and get on with your life"
They need to allow the person to have the time and space for intense grief and mourning
Also, the person needs to be able to talk about what happened and get help with feelings of guilt, self-blame, and rage
Family and friends can make a significant difference in the long-term outcome by helping the person to communicate and learn to anticipate what he or she needs to restore a sense of equilibrium to their life
The person with PTSD needs to feel that he or she is a part of the treatment plan
And is not being manipulated or controlled by either a doctor or a loved one
They need to feel that they do still have choices

Sleeplessness and other symptoms of hyperarousal may interfere with recovery
Certain medications can be used to aid the person in their recovery
Yet, it must be remembered that medication alone will not help
Treatment by a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist with input from both the person and the primary physician is very important

In people whose trauma occurred years or even decades before
The close attention by professionals to deeply entrenched coping behaviors is very important
Many Vietnam veterans have suffered in silence without ever having been able to talk about the trauma or their nightmares, hyperarousal, numbing, or irritability
They need help to make the connection between past trauma and current symptoms in order feel that they have a sense of control over their lives and relationships


Relationships are often a trouble spot for a person with PTSD
They often resolve conflicts by withdrawing emotionally or even by becoming physically violent
Therapy can help the PTSD sufferer to identify and avoid unhealthy relationships
This is vital to the healing process because the feeling of stability and safety needs to be established before the process of uncovering the roots of the trauma begins
This is why the family support is very important for without it
The PTSD sufferer is basically in an unhealthy relationship

In order to ease flashbacks and other painful thoughts and feelings
The person needs to confront what has happened to them and learn to accept the trauma as part of their past
There are several different forms of therapy which can be used by a professional
Whether cognitive/behavioral treatment or psychodynamic treatment is used
The PTSD sufferer needs to identify the triggers for their memories of trauma
As well as identify situations in their lives in which they feel out of control
A trusting relationship is crucial and necessary in establishing a sense of safety

Group therapy can also be an important part of treatment for PTSD
Being with other Vietnam veterans who have experienced similar trauma, or have similar feelings of guilt, rage, or other symptoms of PTSD can be helpful if the group setting is well controlled by a qualified professional.
However, for people whose symptoms are making it impossible to function
Or for people who have developed additional symptoms, inpatient treatment is sometimes necessary to create the vital atmosphere of safety in which they can examine their flashbacks, re-enactments of the trauma, and self-destructive behavior
Occasionally, inpatient treatment may be needed to help a person get past a particularly painful period of their therapy


Recovery from PTSD is a slow process, but the key is for the sufferer to be in control of his or her own recovery
Support from family and friends is absolutely essential
For without it, the road to recovery is made more difficult
It may take the person years to recover if they don't have the love and understanding that they need

Suicide, accidents, or early deaths are a frequent occurrance for Vietnam veterans, and those who have died due to the trauma of the Vietnam War also need to be remembered
By doing so, the Vietnam veteran who is suffering from PTSD today can feel free to obtain the help and support that is desperately needed
Not only the Veteran's Administration and the government, but all people must reach out their hand to those brave men and women who served their country when they were called
They were not welcomed home as soldiers from other wars were
It is time to not only make them feel at home again
But to be supportive of their important needs
For they are the walking wounded who need to be treated as the heroes that they are


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