New Report Sheds New Light On PTSD

Kathryn DeHoyos discusses what we know, or more importantly what we don’t know about PTSD.

Very little is known today about the root causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), referred to as “shell shock” during and after WWll, but a new study soon to be published in Psychological Science by a Danish psychologist, Dr. Dorthe Bertnsen and her colleagues may help answer some important questions. What is PTSD? And is there any way to predict who may be more susceptible? As the Pacific Standard recently reported,

A traumatic brain injury is understood to be as dangerous a wound as the kind that bleeds. Psychologists like Brett Litz of Boston University even speak of “moral injury”—an act of transgression that violates a soldier’s ethical or religious code, and leaves its scar chiefly on the soul, rather than the body or the brain.

With the war in Iraq ended, and troops gradually returning from Afghanistan, it is more important than ever for us to understand what our soldiers may be facing as a result of their service to their country. Although PTSD has received attention both in the media and the government recently, solid statistics on the number of servicemen suffering from this illness are sketchy at best. According to the Congressional Research Service,

PTSD affects some 27 percent of soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, while the suicide rate among male veterans is quadruple that of civilians. Those figures only include soldiers who sought help through VA hospitals, suggesting the actual numbers are higher.

The report by Dr. Bertnsen and her colleagues however should help answer some of the more difficult questions concerning who is more likely to suffer from PTSD and why. The Danish team found that,

There is no single PTSD experience, and any number of factors, not just combat exposure but childhood trauma and education level, influence how a veteran deals with the emotional aftershocks of war.

Much more research is needed before it can be said with any degree of certainty that we understand what causes and how to treat PTSD. But this recent study is a significant step in the right direction. One can only hope that with both public and governmental awareness growing or returning servicemen will finally receive the care and treatment they deserve.


Photo: nukeit1/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Given that Ideal with people and PTSD all the time I was a little wary of yet another piece on PTSD and Military. In the last 5 years it appears that some 95% of the research is suddenly all about Military Related PTSD and no other form exists.

    Complex PTSD where there are many Traumas all stitched together like a chocker – Crime related, Abuse related, Occupational with paramedics, Fire, police, Coast guard and doctors and nurses … So much about the subject is not mentioned, understood it’s just Army – Vets – hell even navy and air-force don’t get a look in!

    So with a heavy heart I clicked on that link and up comes “Trajectories of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Before, During, and After Military Deployment in Afghanistan” … More Military – More Army- Oh boy!

    I read and then couldn’t believe my eyes:

    Predeployment emotional problems and predeployment traumas, especially childhood adversities, were predictors for inclusion in the nonresilient trajectories, whereas deployment-related stress was not. These findings challenge standard views of PTSD in two ways. First, they show that factors other than immediately preceding stressors are critical for PTSD development, with childhood adversities being central. Second, they demonstrate that the development of PTSD symptoms shows heterogeneity, which indicates the need for multiple measurements to understand PTSD and identify people in need of treatment.

    My GOD – did I just read what so many have been highlighting for years – childhood abuse predisposes to PTSD.

    Pre-existing Trauma makes PTSD worse!

    The level of Stress in battle or Events is not the primary factor.

    So it’s easy – screen out those at highest risk and uses them elsewhere.

    More challenging Stop Child Abuse and you cut Military related PTSD – but that aint going to happen, cos it’s cheaper to pay vets than prevent child abuse. And they say people with PTSD have a weird view on the world!

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Some years ago, the NYT tried to gin up some action on the suicides of returning veterans. They did commit suicide at a higher rate than civilians. Further research discovered they commit suicide at about the same rate as male civilians of the same age. IOW, not out of the ordinary. So that tanked. Not sure what the comparative rates are now.
    Had a neighbor who fought in the Phillipines. We’d have a couple of late night drinks and he’d get to talking about what he’d seen the Japanese do to civliians and prisoners. Had trouble talking about it, to the end of his life, which was a couple of months ago.
    My father, who fought in Europe, still reminisces about the bad things. After the mortaring stopped, he heard a soft voice, “Mother, I’m bleeding.” Guy was dead by the time help got to him. Dozens more.
    This sort of thing was what you came home from war with, including scars and stories and uniforms in th old or even not-so-old days. Today, it would be considered PTSD. So I’d be interested in knowing how much of the increase is due to differences in attitudes toward it or differences in diagnoses.
    My elderly neighbor had no moral pain from what he did. I imagine such things happen, but there seems to be an attempt to whitewash the barbarity of our enemies and its effect on our troops.
    Not that I have to get out my surprised face.

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