About Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It is not something to be ashamed of or to hide! Given what we experienced, those who do not suffer from any of its effects are probably more abnormal than those who do.

PTSD has been around and its symptoms diagnosed for centuries. During the Civil War, PTSD symptoms were diagnosed as Da Costa's Syndrome. Since then, it has variously been referred to as Soldiers Heart, The Effort Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Exhaustion, Railway Hysteria, Shell Shock, War/Combat Neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. It wasn't until the Post-Vietnam era that the name Post-Traumatic was used.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV). For a doctor or medical professional to be able to make a diagnosis, the condition must be defined in DSM-IV or its international equivalent, the World Health Organization's ICD-10.

In the previous version of DSM (DSM-III) a criterion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was for the sufferer to have faced a single major life-threatening event; this criterion was present because a) it was thought that PTSD could not be a result of "normal" events such as bereavement, business failure, interpersonal conflict, bullying, harassment, stalking, marital disharmony, working for the emergency services, etc, and b) most of the research on PTSD had been undertaken with people who had suffered a threat to life (eg combat veterans, especially from Vietnam, victims of accident, disaster, and acts of violence).

In DSM-IV the requirement was eased although most mental health practitioners continue to interpret diagnostic criterion A1 as applying only to a single major life-threatening event. There is growing recognition that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can result from many types of emotionally shocking experience including an accumulation of small, individually non-life-threatening events in which case the resultant PTSD is referred to as Complex PTSD.