It is quite normal for someone to feel anxious, sad, frightened, and disconnected after undergoing a life-threatening or traumatic event like physical or sexual assault, terrorist incidents and catastrophes. Basically, traumatic events are overwhelmingly stressful, and the stress associated with them precipitates a broad spectrum of psycho-emotional and physio-pathological outcomes (Regel & Joseph, 2010). In its severest form, these consequences are diagnosed as psychiatric disorders. However, if the upset doesn’t fade away, the affected individual will tend to feel a constant sense of danger, hopelessness and painful memories. This is actually a psychiatric disorder known as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), an anxiety condition founded on how an individual reacts to a disturbing event.
It's widely understood that PTSD can result from a single, major, life-threatening event, often defined in DSM-IV, but there is a growing awareness nowadays that PTSD can also be a consequence of an accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents. Commonly used terminology "Complex PTSD" is used usually used to differentiate the cause instead of PTSD because Complex PTSD is not in DSM-IV-TR. Therefore, the former is a commonly used terminology while the latter is a diagnostic terminology (American Psychiatric Association, 1987).
Perhaps it’s important to emphasize that Post-traumatic stress disorder can only affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. While it’s evident that the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop within hours or days following the traumatic event, their intensities will tend to vary from one person to another. This can be attributed to variation in personalities, ways of expressing emotion as well as styles and methods of coping (Regel & Joseph, 2010).
Causative factors of PTSD
The causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not well-defined. Nevertheless, the most significant causal factor linked to PTSD is the traumatic event itself, but the following are some causative factors which have helped in classification of PTSD as legitimate diagnostic entity with a multifaceted set of causes (Peterson, 2000).
1. Occupational factors
People whose jobs expose them to traumatic events are more likely to develop secondary PTSD, popularly known as burnout or compassion fatigue. These people include police officers, specialists in emergency medicine, firefighters, disaster investigators, and search-and-rescue personnel. However, the degree of risk for PTSD depends on the worker's degree of compassion and sensitivity, among other factors. For instance, a good number of people associate PTSD with battle-scared soldiers, the most common cause of this disorder in men, particularly if the experience is accompanied by uncontrollable or unpredictable traumatizing events. In this case, the soldiers suffer combat-caused PTSD.