Thursday, May 17, 2007


Most people associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with the Vietnam War. But this illness has been with us in one form or another since even before the American Civil War. Then it was called “Soldier’s Heart” or “Nostalgia.” During World War I it was called “Shell Shock” and in World War II it was called “Battle Fatigue.”

For many years, people, even doctors, felt the victims were malingering, suffering little more than cowardice. Over those same many years case studies have proven it is a real illness brought on by trauma. The latest case was Canadian General Romeo Dallaire in charge of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Rwanda. After being forced to watch helplessly as thousands of women and children were slaughtered, he suffered severe depression and committed suicide.

Hollywood has had a great time making PTSD victims seem like dangerous ticking time bombs. When Hollywood needs a villain they trot out some Vietnam Veteran, he has a flashback and then he kills his family. The truth is PTSD victims are more of a danger to themselves than they are anyone else. And I have another surprise for you. Anyone can get PTSD; you do not have to go to war. Many people here and around the world have PTSD and they never wore a uniform or fired a shot in anger. In fact some of you reading this column probably have PTSD and do not even know it.

A diagnosis of PTSD requires that four criteria be met. First, the individual must have been exposed to an extremely stressful and traumatic event beyond the range of normal human experience. Second, the individual must periodically and persistently re-experience the event. This re-experiencing can take different forms, such as recurrent nightmares, flashbacks during which he re-lives the trauma, or just simply the inability to forget the event. Third, the individual is persistent in avoiding events related to the trauma.
The symptoms for PTSD can manifest themselves in a wide variety of forms. The most common manifestations are bursts of anger, strong irritability, heightened startle response to loud noises, trouble sleeping, and physiological evidence of fear when re-exposed to a traumatic event. Other possible symptoms can range from headaches, tremors and sweating to hypervigilance, nightmares and substance abuse. The best way to tell if you or your loved one has this illness is to get tested. The Philippine Mental Health Agency has a battery of tests and an excellent staff who can determine if you suffer this illness. I have PTSD. My wife, at age eight, watched her father murdered and suffers PTSD. My best friend spent three months in the hospital because of PTSD. The shame is not in being sick. The shame is not seeking proper treatment. Illnesses never get better through neglect. Yes, PTSD will often respond to proper medical treatment. It can be controlled and even cured. Be an Everyday Hero. Face your possible illness with courage and get proper medical treatment. It will change your life and the lives of those who love you.

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