PTSDPTSD…Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What is it? Technically it is an Anxiety Disorder. It is a complex response to extreme stress that is deemed life threatening by an individual that does not go away on its own over time. Some would have you believe that it is a psychiatric condition. But in reality, it is an adaptive response to keep someone (themselves or others or both) from harm and it may get worse overtime. This adaptive response stems from exposure to real or perceived life threatening situations that can be a one time event, series of events or on going events. Note that it doesn’t just have to be ‘events’ but also circumstances in which people can ‘see’ themselves in the same situation as the person who is actually going through the traumatic event or circumstances such as witnessing a murder or a grizzly car accident . This is an empathic response. There are those who witnessed the World Trade Center Towers come down who were not even there and displayed PTSD symptoms later on. People who know people who have been killed or seriously harmed or even just threatened have been known to develop PTSD. Almost ANY traumatic event can trigger high anxiety and what is traumatic to one person may not be to another. Each person is different and reacts differently to trauma/high stress situations and circumstances. PTSD can happen to anyone, children and adults alike. It cuts across all social, economic and racial lines.

The most common events that can trigger PTSD and put people at the highest risk of developing PTSD are those who have experienced combat exposure, domestic violence/abuse, rape/sexual assault, childhood neglect/abuse, physical attacks, being threatened with a weapon. However, car accidents, muggings, robbery, natural disasters, war/terrorism, prison stays, and accidents can also cause PTSD.

Other risk factors for developing PTSD include:
Living through dangerous and traumatic events
A history of mental health issues/problems (depression, anxiety)
Drug/alcohol abuse
Family history of anxiety conditions
Sleep disorders
Getting hurt
Seeing other get hurt or killed
Feelings of horror, helplessness or extreme fear.
Having little or no social support after the event(s)
Dealing with more stress after the event(s) such as loss of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, etc.
Frontal Head Injuries
Those who are diagnosed with a life threatening illness or who have had major medical procedures.
Being a first responder
Being a combat veteran
Learning of an unexpected death of a loved one or close friend


One month after 9/11 approximately 7.5% of New York City’s population reported symptoms of PTSD. 6 months later it had fallen to .6%.

Approximately 5.6 million to 7.7 million people in this country have symptoms of PTSD during the course of a given year. (about 3.6 to 5% of the population)

It is estimated that 6-30% or more of trauma survivors develop PTSD with children and young people at the highest risk.

Women (10.4%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD.

It is estimated that at least 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

Approximately 30% of men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD

An additional 20-25% of our Veterans have had partial PTSD.

More than half of all male Vietnam veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced “clinically serious stress reactions”.

Estimates of PTSD from the Gulf War in Veterans are about 10%

Estimates of PTSD from the war in Afghanistan in Veterans are between 6 and 11%

Current estimates of PTSD in military personnel who served in Iraq range from 12-20%

When in danger, it is absolutely normal to feel afraid. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or prepare to avoid it. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response. Hormones and other chemicals flood the body. With PTSD, something changes within the brain and researchers are not quite sure exactly what it is that changes. Current research is looking at genetics, Stathin (a protein), GRP (gastrin-releasing peptide) and a version of 5-HTTLPR gene which controls the release and levels of serotonin. These three chemicals play major roles in the fear response and fear memory making. Scientists are also looking further into the role of the amygdale which is active in fear acquisition and plays a role in overcoming fear. They are also looking into the PFC (prefrontal cortex) which stores extinction memories (how you over come a fear) and is responsible for dampening the original fear response. It is believed that individual differences with the brain can predispose someone for developing PTSD, but no one knows for sure what ‘causes’ PTSD. Personally, I believe that it is a mix of biological, societal and individual coping mechanisms. Risk factors are just that…risk factors, not a sure bet.

PTSD is not some off the wall cop out, it is not as those in the medical and therapy world would have you believe a ‘mental illness’. It is not a disease and it doesn’t make you ‘crazy’ nor does it make those who have it incompetent in anyway and it is most certainly not a death sentence when properly dealt with. Those who suffer with PTSD are survivors of horrific and life threatening situations, circumstances and events. PTSD is a natural survival response that can be triggered within all of us given the right set of circumstances. All human beings have with them the will to survive. PTSD is merely a reflection of that will to survive that unfortunately becomes prolonged or ingrained into a person for an extended period of time. It is a serious issue because it can become debilitating and problematic to the individual experiencing the prolonged fight or flight response. It can be misunderstood and disruptive in their relationships with friends, family, co-workers and bosses. What was once a protective mechanism becomes a problem when it will not shut off. It simply human to experience fear and to try and avoid or fight a threatening problem or circumstance and those with PTSD should be looked upon as survivors who need help in returning to a state of balance within themselves.