If my recollection is accurate it was around the early 1980s when the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder was introduced. Back then a traumatic event was considered to be something extraordinary. It was 'outside the realm of normal human experience', so by that definition the number of sufferers would be fairly modest - in global terms at least.
Perhaps not surprisingly the concept of what constituted trauma was rapidly revised and whilst even today there is still debate over the nature of the beast, the concept is far more embracing. Now, we freely acknowledge the breadth and variety of events that may lead to trauma. They range from intensely personal physical and/or emotional violations, to bereavement, manmade or natural disasters, and armed conflicts.
In all cases the common elements are the profound levels of upset caused by actual death of others or the perceived threat of severe injury or death to oneself or others. Fear, helplessness and horror are features of trauma but we can never be certain as to who will become traumatized. The effects of trauma are clearer. Somewhere the relatively positive and predictable view a person may have of life gives way to a sense of fear and uncertainty. Sometimes guilt and shame about action or inaction during the event rise to the surface and undermine confidence.
Making sense of trauma is no easy task. We know a few things however such as those who attempt to help or get involved in a dangerous or traumatic situation seem less likely to be affected than those who accept help or are helpless observers. Natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, can be catastrophic yet tend to have far less complex effects on people than say being threatened by a knife, or surviving a car crash.
The effects of trauma are not necessarily the same as a 'disorder' which may take months or years to develop - if at all. A stress disorder may however be a consequence of a traumatic event. This is why there is increasing interest in exploring ways of treating post traumatic stress before it has the chance to develop into a disorder.
Published On: September 07, 2014