Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

December 4, 2023

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been around as long as there has been trauma, said Dr. James Reeves, director of The University of Alabama Wellness Clinic and a psychiatrist with University Medical Center, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, dates to the late 1800s and was known by different names in the past, such as Railroad Spinal Syndrome, a phobia developed from train travel disasters, and “shell shock” in combat veterans during World War I and II.

“PTSD can be found not just in combat veterans but in anybody of any age, and about half of all people in the United States will go through a traumatic event at some point in life,” Reeves said during a Mini Medical School presentation to The University of Alabama’s OLLI Program.

Mini Medical School features a series of semester-long lectures provided to OLLI participants by CCHS faculty and UMC health-care providers.

Reeves said risk factors for PTSD include having experienced previous trauma, childhood neglect and a history of depression or anxiety. Symptoms include having repetitive unwanted memories, such as flashbacks and nightmares, avoiding conversations about a traumatic event, insomnia and changes in thoughts and feelings.

There are four criteria used in diagnosing PTSD, Reeves said. The first focuses on trauma, in which the patient has experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event that involved serious death or injury, or a threat to themselves or to others.

The second involves the patient reexperiencing their traumatic event through distressing recollections of the event in their thoughts or perceptions and experiencing psychological distress in having to recall the details of the event.

The third shows the patient avoiding thoughts and activities related to the trauma with feelings of numbness in the body and a sense of detachment from others.

The fourth and final criteria highlights the patient’s inability to sleep, having trouble with expressed anger and having difficulty concentrating on daily life functions.

“The most effective treatment for PTSD is therapy,” Reeves said. “To overcome your fear, you must face your fear; avoiding your fears only makes them stronger.”