Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Not Just About the Military

 By Marilyn DeSouza

Usually, people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with military experiences in a war zone, but it’s not just about the military.  In fact there might  be more people experiencing PTSD in crowed inner city communities. 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by a person living through (witnessing or experiencing) a terrible experience which is very frightening. Such major events are often violent (called traumatic). Events that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • being raped or sexually abused
  • experiencing violence in the home (domestic violence)
  • being a victim of a violent crime
  • being involved in a war/combat
  • being in a car or plane crash
  • being in a hurricane or tornado
  • being in a fire
  • observing major events like those above, plus
  • child abuse
  • street violence
  • homicide or suicide

Usually within three months of the terrible event, the person begins to repeatedly re-live the event. However, some people don’t begin to relive the event until years later.


The signs or symptoms which the person develops may include:

  • nightmares or flashbacks
  • inability to escape memories of the event
  • irritability and outbursts of anger
  • violent feelings and behavior
  • intense distress on exposure to reminders of the event
  • withdrawal from situations that might lead to reminders
  • depression

People of color who live in low-income communities may be at increased risk, because of higher rates of violence. The affected person is usually haunted with intense fear, horror or a feeling of helplessness. Symptoms usually appear within one month after the event, and may include depression.

Treatment involves behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, and psychotherapy. Of these, supportive psychotherapy is especially important because of the intense anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. The therapist assures the person of the validity of his response, and yet encourages recall of his or her memories during behavioral therapy sessions, as a part of the recovery process.

For more information, you may contact the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) by calling 1-88-88-ANXIETY or 1-888-826-9438.

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