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By Dr. James Bender
Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.
Hello. I was talking to our DCoE social media people a few weeks ago and they were saying that some people confuse post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with post-traumatic stress. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially for people who don’t spend a lot of time studying the topic. However, there are significant differences between the two and it’s useful for our nation’s warriors and the people who support them to know about them.
Post-traumatic stress is a common, normal and often adaptive response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. If you’ve ever been a bit shocked or rattled after a car accident or had a close call with a physical injury (falling off a ladder, nearly drowning or being in a combat situation) you may have noticed your heart racing and maybe your hands shook for a while. You might find yourself leery about engaging in the activity that almost injured you. Being more careful in a potentially dangerous situation is one of the positive outcomes of post-traumatic stress. Other experiences, like avoiding the activity that almost got you hurt or feeling scared, will subside in time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a clinically-diagnosed condition. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a situation involving the possibility of death or serious injury can develop PTSD (although many people who experience traumatic situations recover after a period of adjustment). PTSD symptoms include reliving the event through nightmares, flashbacks or constantly thinking about the incident. Other symptoms include avoiding situations or people that remind you of the event, trouble feeling positive emotions, and being constantly jittery, nervous, or “on edge.” These symptoms must be present for more than one month to qualify for a PTSD diagnoses.
■Post-traumatic stress symptoms resolve on their own and improve within a month. PTSD symptoms are more severe, numerous and interfere with normal life
■Post-traumatic stress is common and most people with post-traumatic stress do not develop PTSD
■PTSD is a medically-diagnosed condition
Those with PTSD have many effective treatments available to them. There are medications that are FDA-approved to treat PTSD and therapy techniques, like exposure therapy and cognitive therapy. If you have, or think you may have PTSD, the best thing for you to do is to educate yourself, download the PTSD Coach mobile app, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, or contact the DCoE Outreach Center for material.
Thanks for reading and for your service. Please respond to this post if you have any questions or comments. Stay safe.