PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is something that most of us are at least aware of. It is a mental illness resulting from trauma, whose symptoms include flashbacks to traumatic events, avoidance of triggers that remind the person of those traumatic events, and hyper-vigilance, a constant state of high arousal and alertness. While many of us associate PTSD with combat veterans, others can develop PTSD following any traumatic event, from something dramatic like a car crash to something as seemingly minor as a child watching a scary movie.
However, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, there are certain factors that make a person more or less disposed to having the disorder. We will discuss them below.
Why Some People DO Develop PTSD
1. Chemicals in the Brain Influence Our Memories and Make Us More Fearful
So far, two “brain chemicals” have been pinpointed for further study, Stathmin and GRP (gastrin-releasing peptide). Stathmin allows for formation of fearful memories, while GRP controls fear responses. An abundance of the former, and lack of the latter, might be enough for someone to develop PTSD.
2. Some People are Genetically Predisposed to It
While the exact genes that leave a person more likely to have PTSD are not yet known, it is probable that many different ones are involved. Some likely cause differing amounts of the two chemicals spoken of above.
3. Experiencing a Traumatic Event
This one may seem the most obvious, but what exactly constitutes a traumatic event is not so clear cut. What may not be traumatic to one person may be extremely traumatic to another. In general we can define a traumatic event (to the person experiencing it) as one that leaves the person fearful, helpless, and hopeless.
4. A History of Mental Illness
Someone who already has an existing mental illness, such as schizophrenia or depression, is more likely to develop PTSD later on in life.
5. Stress After the Traumatic Event
As if the event itself wasn’t bad enough, oftentimes the stress continues after the event itself. For example, after a beloved parent dies, the trauma does not end, as one must then arrange the funeral, attend, and live with the grief afterwards. This may be just enough to make the person develop PTSD.
Why People DON’T Develop PTSD
1. Seeking Help
Those who seek help before they develop PTSD are less likely to develop the full blown disorder. This is more difficult than it sounds, as getting help is often stigmatized, and even paying to get help may be hard for some people, but it is well worth the struggle.
2. Joining a Support Group
Many support groups exist, either online, on the phone, or in person, for just about every kind of trauma. Speaking to another person who has gone through the same problem helps dramatically and reduces risk of PTSD.
3. Feeling Confident About Actions Taken During the Traumatic Event
Oftentimes people who undergo trauma begin to second guess the actions they took during the episode. People who either accept, or learn to accept, the actions they took during that stressful time are more likely to avoid a diagnosis of PTSD. Therapy can help dramatically with this.
4. Having a Coping Strategy
Coping in general is a vital part of life, but in regards to trauma, it could make all the difference in the world. People who innately have, or learned, a good coping strategy for traumatic events and their aftermaths generally handle the trauma much better.
5. Being Male
Women are more likely to develop PTSD, although part of the difference of diagnoses between the sexes may be the fact that men, in general, are less willing to seek psychiatric help.
Before I leave you, I want to emphasize that, if you have PTSD, it is not your fault for having this illness, and I don’t want you to take the second set of lists as a list of things that you should have done. It is simply a list detailing why some people don’t develop the disorder, and reflects no shortcomings on the part of anyone that has it. PTSD is a serious disorder that, like all mental disorders, urgently needs to be taken more seriously in this country and the world. If you feel you may be struggling, I urge you to seek help sooner rather than later to avoid unnecessary hardship.
Information for this article provided by the National Institute for Mental Health.
About the Author
I am a college student with psychosis NOS, a disease which is similar to schizophrenia. My hobbies include bird photography, writing, and reading. I co-write the blog Exploring Mindfulness with my partner in crime, Daniel. I write about mental illness, stigma, and all things mental health.