Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that results from being exposed to a traumatic event. When the body feels that it is in danger it reacts with a “flight or fight” response that is meant to protect a person from harm. When the body is faced with terror, functions such as memory, emotion, and thinking are shut off because they are less important at the moment. This allows the body to focus solely on increasing the heart rate, moving more blood to the muscles in order to run and adds stress hormones to help fight off infection and bleeding in case of a wound (National Alliance on Mental Health website, 2014). As a result, the traumatic experiences are unprocessed at the time it is happening because the body is so focused on immediate physical safety. Therefore, these unprocessed memories can occur at any given time, without warning leaving a person with PTSD feeling stressed or frightened even when they are no longer in danger.
Currently scientists are studying ways that may make one more likely to be at risk for PTSD. Scientists believe that genes may play a role in creating fear memories; they have pinpointed genes that make stathmin (a protein needed to form fear memories) and gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) (a signaling chemical in the brain released during emotional events), testing both on mice (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013). In a study on stathmin, “mice that did not make stathmin were less likely than normal mice to “freeze”, a natural, protective response to danger, after being exposed to a fearful experience. They also showed less innate fear by exploring open spaces more willingly than normal mice” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013, p. 2). In the study on GRP in mice, the GRP “ seems to help control the fear response, and lack of GRP may lead to the creation of greater and more lasting memories of fear” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013, p. 2).
There have also been studies on certain brain areas involved in dealing with fear and stress which can help researchers to better understand causes of PTSD. One specific area of the brain that is being researched is the amygdala, which is known for its role in emotion, learning, and memory. “The amygdala appears to be active in fear acquisition, or learning to fear an event (such as touching a hot stove), as well as in the early stages of fear extinction, or learning not to fear” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013, p. 2). These individual differences in gene or brain areas may only be responsible for setting the stage of PTSD not for causing it.
A surprisingly high percentage of the American population will experience at least one traumatic event in their life; although not all will develop PTSD (most will not). How likely a person is to get PTSD depends on many things; How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted, if a loved one was lost or hurt, how close the person was to the...