Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is short for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder stems from suffering a trauma, which most of us have gone through. Usually the trauma fades into a memory and overtime memories tend to fade too. Typically PTSD is diagnosed by the following criteria according to the DSM-IV American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel: (1) The person goes through or sees something that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury.The person responds to this with intense fear, helplessness or horror.
(2) The person then relives this traumatic event through dreams, or recollections. He or she can behave as if the trauma is actually happening right then, and can react strongly to events that even resemble the original trauma. (3) The person tries desperately to avoid this, and to avoid anything associated with the trauma, in fact, may not even remember the trauma yet still react strongly to certain stimuli. (4) The person often has difficulty sleeping and concentrating. He or she may be hyper-vigilant. All this lasts longer than (5) a month and causes (6) significant distress in daily life. (Howard & Crandall, 2007)
Everything should be very clear now. Just kidding. These elements are somewhat ambiguous. With that said, EDL thinks the most critical element of the PTSD disorder is failing to heal the trauma effectively. Why? We will start to explore this question to shed some light on this issue, but first the issue of who gets PTSD will be covered.
Who gets PTSD?
PTSD has been commonly associated with soldiers. Yet the PTSD illness covers a broader area and many more people. After all this disorder begins by suffering a trauma. EDL wants to be clear in no way are we trying to downgrade the traumas of war. We simply are pointing out the fact that others suffer from PTSD too.
Nonetheless PTSD is subjective, some individuals are capable of handling many traumas effectively. Other individuals need some help coping with trauma. To complicate matters more coping with trauma can be physical or mental. Meaning the injury(s) can be seen or unseen. Take a TBI injury for example. On the outside everything appears to be normal. Without individualized coping mechanisms, the PTSD disorder may develop. In order to further understand how this disorder may develop we need to start examining the biological processes of PTSD and the brain.
Biological aspects of PTSD
The brain communicates with other areas of the brain via neurons. A neuron works by first being activated then the neuron activates other neurons via a synaptic gap (chemicals are released into the gap and these chemicals then activate other neurons). If neurons fail to release their chemicals to communicate with each other, different areas of the brain will not trigger. It is important to note how the brain communicates because improperly functioning neurons can play a significant role in brain health.
Among scientists there is a widely held belief that the amygdala controls emotional content. More importantly the amygdala is responsible for the flight or fight response. (Howard & Crandall, 2007). In other words it controls how we respond to danger. It is also one of the most primitive parts of the brain. When the amygdala is activated, signals are sent to other areas of the brain to react, not think. The amygdala part of the brain doesn’t have time to think. Remember it is our danger response and it reacts immediately. Unfortunately the PTSD disorder allows the amygdala to control the way neurons communicate in the brain. (Howard & Crandall, 2007)
Without proper help, the brain will be stuck in the same emotional state. The brain will never properly analyze daily situations because the neurons fail to communicate via the synaptic gap. Meaning other areas of the brain will not trigger. The neurons become inactive. That is why its vitally important not to let the amygdala control our thoughts and behavior after a trauma.
PTSD and Dissociation
Dissociation is not a bad thing. Dissociation is another behavior on a spectrum. Too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. When a trauma occurs, some people dissociate with the event to stop the bad thing from occurring over and over to them. After a person goes through a trauma, they are more likely to dissociate in everyday situations. Without proper guidance, an individual is a risk of dissociating all life events too.
In summary, neurons help the brain communicate with other areas of the brain. The brain operates from the bottom level to the top. So it starts with the most primitive operations first then works it way up through communication. However if neurons malfunction the brain cannot reach the next level. In PTSD sufferers the brain is controlled by the primitive amygdala. When an individual is stuck in the fight or flight response mode, they are more likely to exhibit dissociative behavior. This behavior can turn into a bad thing without guidance. EDL believes if the trauma is properly handled by use of nondestructive coping mechanisms, then the neurons in the brain will communicate. The brain can and will reach the next level. Likewise, the effects of PTSD can be diminished with proper neuron firing.
***Howard, S., & Crandall, M.W. MD. (2007). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder What Happens in the Brain. Washington Academy of Sciences, 93, 1-17.***
Some helpful resources
Veteran’s Affairs National Center for PTSD
http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/index.jsp is the Department of
Institutes of Health site for PTSD.
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/HealthInformation/ptsdmenu.cfm is the National