More Awareness Needed About PTSD Triggers
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a collection of lingering or delayed symptoms that can appear in the aftermath of exposure to highly hazardous or potentially lethal events or situations. Current research indicates that a range of events and situations are capable of serving as originating sources of PTSD. Researchers from three British universities analyzed the amount of success that the average person has when trying to identify cases of PTSD triggered by various underlying causes.
One of PTSD’s primary symptoms is involuntary activation of the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response in situations that most people wouldn’t view as threatening or dangerous. The hyperaroused state associated with this activation includes such things as jumpiness and prominent fear and agitation. Other common symptoms of the disorder include nightmares or flashbacks centered on an unwanted re-experiencing of a trauma, a spike in destabilizing or “down” emotional states and a strong urge to stay away from anything that brings memories of traumatic circumstances to mind. By definition, these and other PTSD symptoms must be present 30 days or longer after exposure to any given type of trauma.
Men have a moderately higher overall chance of experiencing trauma exposure than women, the federal National Center for PTSD reports. Despite this fact, women develop PTSD in the aftermath of trauma more than twice as frequently as men. Still, fully 80 percent of all women don’t develop symptoms of the disorder in the weeks or months after living through traumatic experiences; 92 percent of men don’t develop PTSD symptoms after living through such experiences.
Underlying PTSD Causes
In addition to combat exposure, researchers have linked the onset of PTSD to such things as sexual or physical abuse in childhood, sexual or physical attacks in adulthood, involvement in a car crash or some other major accident, survival of a major natural disaster and the witnessing or experiencing of acts of terror. In addition to women, segments of the population with increased chances of developing the disorder in the aftermath of trauma include people with poorly developed support networks, people also exposed to high levels of non-traumatic stress, racial/ethnic minorities, people who have previously experienced other instances of trauma exposure, people with a family history of mental illness, people with a personal history of mental illness and people with relatively little academic achievement. Individual factors linked to the development of PTSD include being directly involved in a traumatic situation, enduring long-lasting forms of trauma, feeling unable to avoid trauma exposure, lacking appropriate help in the immediate aftermath of trauma and losing a loved one during a traumatic experience.
How Well Do People Recognize PTSD Symptoms?
In the study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers from the United Kingdom’s King’s College London, University of Greenwich and University College London used a web-based survey of 2,960 people in the U.K. and Ireland to investigate how well the general population recognizes cases of PTSD associated with various sources of emotional trauma. During the study, each participant was shown an example of a woman or a man experiencing PTSD symptoms after exposure to a combat situation, exposure to an act of sexual assault (which can include rape or a non-penetrative sexual attack) or exposure to a major accident in the workplace. For each situation, the participants were asked to determine whether or not the person they observed had a significant mental health issue, whether or not any identified issue stemmed from the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder and what sorts of assistance would help reverse any problems they saw.
The researchers concluded that the study participants’ ability to accurately recognize cases of PTSD depended heavily on the situation identified as the underlying cause of problems. Compared to sexual assault-related PTSD, the participants accurately recognized the symptoms of combat-related PTSD more than 400 percent more often. Compared to major accident-related PTSD, the participants recognized combat-related post-traumatic stress more than 100 percent more often. Several subgroups of study participants were particularly likely to recognize cases of PTSD, regardless of the condition’s underlying causes, including women, younger adults, people familiar with mental health issues and people with a college education.