By Jill Kruse, D.O.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, was first listed as a medical diagnosis in 1980. However, it has been recognized and called by many different names throughout history. The first recorded description of PTSD is in the Epic of Gilgamesh which dates back to 2100 B.C. In The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer wrote about Trojan War soldiers exhibiting the symptoms of PTSD. Shakespeare described a character in King Henry IV who suffered from post-traumatic nightmares.
During the Civil War, the terms “irritable heart” and “soldier’s heart” were used to describe PTSD symptoms. In World War I it was called “combat stress” or “shell-shock”. In World War II it became “battle fatigue” and “combat exhaustion”. PTSD is not limited to soldiers, as the terms “concentration camp syndrome”, “survivor syndrome”, “battered child syndrome”, and “rape trauma syndrome” were all recognized as conditions in the aftermath of WWII.
PTSD is a mental health condition resulting from experiencing trauma firsthand or from witnessing others undergoing a severely traumatic event. It can also result from repeated exposure to distressing details of an event. For example, many firefighters and other rescue personnel who searched for survivors after the 9/11 attacks suffer from PTSD.
The traumatic experience can lead to flashbacks or nightmares which can progress to physical reactions such as rapid heart rate or shaking when reminded of the event. Individuals with PTSD will often avoid any person, place, activity, or object that could trigger memories of the event. As a result, they may feel detached from others, or have persistent negative thoughts of themselves or others. They may have difficulty experiencing positive emotions like joy and happiness.
Another common symptom of PTSD is hyper vigilance and always feeling “on guard”. This in turn can cause problems such as excessive sleeping, irritability, aggressive behavior, heightened startle response, or difficulty concentrating. If these symptoms last more than one month and interfere with multiple areas of a person’s life, then they meet criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD is best treated by psychiatrists and psychotherapists with special training in this condition. Treatment often involves a combination of medication and therapy. Support groups, exercise, and mindfulness practices are also healthy coping strategies. And, as with any sickness, compassion from family and friends is crucial.
While the name for this illness may have changed, PTSD has been acknowledged for centuries. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor, counselor, or spiritual leader. For more information, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text HELP4U (435748).
Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc®, a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.