Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Suffering in Silence

Although Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not become an official diagnosis until 1980, its symptoms and sufferings have been with us for many centuries. For example, there are the cases of ‘shell shock’ during the Great War which are now known to have been cases of PTSD. Unfortunately for its sufferers, PTSD is still seen as a weakness by some and our society expects people who are involved in or witness traumatic events to just ‘get over it’ within a very short period of time.

One aspect that contributes to society’s lack of understanding is that very few people know what PTSD actually is. There is also the question why some people suffer from it after what seems a relatively mild trauma and others can survive a major event and have no symptoms at all. To address these two questions let’s look at the definition of PTSD.

What is PTSD?

According to the NHS PTSD is “an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events”. These can include being involved in or witnessing:

• Road accidents
• Violent physical or sexual assault
• Military combat
• Terrorist attacks
• Someone’s violent death
• Prolonged physical or sexual abuse or neglect
• Natural disasters

PTSD does not necessarily develop straight after the event. There have been many documented cases where a person has been involved in, or witnessed a traumatic event, and for months or sometimes even years, they have no symptoms of PTSD. Then, without warning, they suddenly start experiencing the classic signs of the affliction such as:

• Nightmares
• Flashbacks to the event
• Insomnia
• Difficulty concentrating
• Anger and irritability
• Avoidance and becoming ‘numb’ emotionally
• Feeling ‘on edge’ all the time

As scientists begin to understand this disorder, they are discovering that PTSD is nothing new and has been suffered by people throughout history. This goes some way towards dispelling the myth that people who suffer from PTSD are somehow ‘weak minded’ or ‘soft’.

For example, Thomas Heebøll-Holm, a historian at the University of Copenhagen, analysed three 14th century texts written by a French Knight called Geoffroi de Charny, who was also a diplomat and trusted adviser to King John II of France. After studying between the lines, Heebøll-Holm believes he can make a case for medieval knights suffering from some trauma due to their violent and relentlessly harsh lifestyle. Although the author showed no signs of PSTD, in his writing he often expressed concern about the mental wellbeing of other men. You can read more about his fascinating finds here.

Shell-shock is also a well known term, which was applied to soldiers during World War 1 who became hyper-sensitive to noise, dizzy, anxious and began to have tremors. It was initially thought these symptoms were brought on by neurological damage caused by exploding shells and gunfire (hence the term ‘shell-shock’). By 1916 more than 40% of all casualties were attributed to what seemed to be this new phenomenon, and around 350 men who displayed symptoms were executed for cowardice. We now know the horrors of trench warfare had an enormous emotional effect on veterans and 306 of the men who were executed received a group pardon for their alleged offences in 2006.

Why are some people vulnerable to PTSD and not others?

It is estimated around 50% of people will witness or be involved in a traumatic event at some point in their lives and thankfully, most people will cope well, even when confronted with horrendous situations. However, there are a percentage of people who never fully recover after a serious event. Many studies have been done to try and establish why some people, although they initially show some signs of anxiety, do OK in the wake of violence, natural disasters or car accidents and others develop severe, sometimes crippling PTSD.

There are biological differences between those who develop PTSD and those who do not. According to an article in the Nature Journal “functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), which tracks blood flow in the brain, has revealed that when people who have PTSD are reminded of the trauma, they tend to have an underactive prefrontal cortex and an overactive amygdala, another limbic brain region, which processes fear and emotion”.

Environmental factors are also thought to play a part in people’s recovery from trauma. Study after study has shown that social and community support acts as a cushion against PTSD. Religious practice and having a strong purpose in life have also been shown to aide recovery from PTSD.

There is much work to be done to ensure people who suffer from PTSD are not dismissed or seen as defective in some way. Some have stated that even using the word ‘disorder’ in the name is offensive, as post-traumatic stress is a natural reaction to terrible events.

If you suffer or have suffered from PTSD we can offer you helpful legal advice which may assist your situation, for more information visit our Post Traumatic Stress Disorder page. If you would rather speak to someone now about your claim, call us in complete confidence on 0845 345 4444, or fill in our contact form and we’ll get straight back to you.