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PTSD Awareness Month

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  • Written By: Barry Shannon, MSW, PSCW
PTSD Awareness Month

Traumatic events have been around since the early days of mankind, creating fear responses in individuals and aiding in self-preservation. Much as this fear response has been present, so has the occurrence of prolonged trauma responses to these stressful events.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or better known as PTSD, is one such disorder that has been a hot button topic since its addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders III in 1980, otherwise known as the DSM III. This manual is what a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or social worker uses when diagnosing patients with a mental health disorder. However, before 1980, this disorder was also recognized and treated by these same providers without being called PTSD.

As early as 1915, Dr. Charles Meyers, an English physician, wrote about symptoms very similar to those of PTSD. Soldiers were calling this “shell shock,” a name that continued through World War II. After World War II, this term changed to “combat fatigue” and was used until it was officially recognized as PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM III.

Some experiences, especially those from trauma, can have a lasting effect on our lives, which can make it difficult for us to function in certain, and sometimes all, aspects of our lives.

What is PTSD?

“Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events, or set of circumstances. An individual may experience this as emotionally or physically harmful or life-threatening, and it may affect mental, physical, social, and/or spiritual well-being. Examples include natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist acts, war/combat, rape/sexual assault, historical trauma, intimate partner violence, and bullying (APA, 2022).”

Although PTSD is very heavily prevalent in the military and veteran population, it is important to note that PTSD does not just pertain to the military or veterans; it is inclusive to anybody who has experienced a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events causing a stress response, regardless of race, ethnicity, or age. Furthermore, this is not exclusive to physically experiencing the traumatic event/s. It can include witnessing the event/s, and even hearing about the event/happenings to a close individual in your life when it involves significant trauma or near-death experiences. However, not every person that experiences trauma will develop PTSD.

The body’s normal response to trauma is to experience fear, which in most cases will trigger our sympathetic nervous system inducing our “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This helps us make quick decisions in life-threatening situations and is a normal response for our protection. Although this response is a normal function of our bodies, the symptoms or actions that our brain and body take can be different for everyone.

Fortunately, most of the time our body overcomes this response naturally with enough time away from the stressor. Unfortunately, for some individuals, this response can be exaggerated, prolonged, and re-experienced throughout their daily lives, especially when something occurs that reminds them of the traumatic experience. The “fight, flight or freeze” response can be induced even in the absence of a traumatic or dangerous experience, which is when individuals may be diagnosed with PTSD.

How do you know if you are at risk for PTSD?

Although PTSD affects everyone, women are two times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD, and United States Latinos, African Americans, and Indigenous individuals have the highest prevalence regarding race and ethnicity (APA, 2022). Remember that PTSD can affect any individual. If you have experienced trauma/s and these symptoms are causing problems with functioning in daily life for longer than a month, you may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Once again, the trauma/s do not have to be personally experienced but can be witnessed or even happen to a close individual causing emotional response in you. Some of these traumas can include:

  • Dangerous encounters

  • Getting or witnessing other individuals get hurt

  • Near death or witnessing a death

  • Sudden traumatic death of a close person

  • Sudden traumatic exposure such as waking up during a medical procedure or surgery

  • Childhood trauma/abuse

  • Intimate partner violence

  • Sexual trauma/abuse

Once you have experienced the trauma, there are other risk factors that can be present such as:

  • Repetitive exposure to the same or similar experiences

  • Increased isolation from people

  • Grief

  • Prolonged fear response/s

  • Increased stress after the experience

  • Previous history of mental health disorder/s

  • Family history of PTSD or mental health disorders.

What signs or symptoms should you look for?

There are multiple criteria that an individual must meet before being diagnosed with PTSD. However, if you have multiple of the following signs or symptoms for more than one month causing major problems in your personal or professional life, you may need to be seen and assessed for PTSD. Symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience, but depending on the person and amount of exposure, can be delayed for years. Symptoms include:

  • Exposure to trauma such as death, near death, serious injury or

sexual trauma.

  • Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive and distressing thoughts, and

prolonged physical and mental response to things that are closely related or tied to the traumatic experience.

  • Avoiding thoughts, memories, sounds, people, locations, activities,

or situations that are related to the traumatic experience.

  • Unable to remember aspects of the experience, increased negative

self-image and confidence, inappropriately blaming yourself, consistent negative feelings, loss of interest in activities, isolation, and inability to experience positive emotions.

  • Increased irritability or anger, being reckless, always on edge and extremely aware, more easily startled, unable to concentrate, and difficulty falling or staying asleep.

How can you get help?

If you are having any of the symptoms listed above, it is very important that you reach out to a trained professional such as a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or social worker to get help. If you are having trouble reaching out for help, find a trusted family member, friend, peer, co-worker, or boss to aid you in seeking help. Based on the information that you provide and using assessment tools, a professional will be able to determine if you meet the criteria for PTSD.

In most cases, PTSD is treated with a combination of medication to reduce the impact of symptoms, and then processing the traumatic experience/s through individual or group therapy. PTSD is completely treatable, and with hard-work and guidance through the process, many people recover to live positive and productive lives.

If you have concerns or feel you suffer from these symptoms, we can help by providing proper diagnosis and treatment. To schedule an appointment, call Campbell County Health’s Behavioral Health Services at 307-688-5000.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the BHS Crisis line at 307.688.5555 or call/text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.


American Psychiatric Association (2022). Trauma- and Stress-Related Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.).

American Psychiatric Association (2022, November). What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

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