It has only been in the last 25 years that we have come to an understanding of how critical events affect human beings. The studies of traumatic impact began in earnest with the return of the Viet Nam veterans in the late 1960's and early 70's. However, historical records contain anecdotes of the problem since the 6th century B.C. Names such as shell shock, soldier's heart, combat stress, battle fatigue, stress breakdown, rape trauma, child abuse and battered wife syndromes have been given to the phenomenon. Since 9/11/2001, we have come to realize how an whole nation can be traumatized by witnessing horrific events.
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in it's diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and legitimized the very real problem of traumatic impact. In 1994, they added Acute Stress disorder to differentiate between short term reactions and long term effects of psychiatric injury.
Unlike most physical injuries, psychiatric injuries are largely invisible and harder to comprehend. However, they are no less real and have life damaging and threatening consequences if left untreated. Suicide or homicide is not an uncommon result of untreated traumatic impact.
Research has shown that the mind and body form a complex and totally integrated system that communicates through biochemical messages. One part of the system can't be activated without a the other responding. When a person is exposed to the threat of danger in a critical incident, the human 'flight or fight' response is activated. This causes our physical and mental survival instincts to automatically shift in to overdrive. Our heartbeats and breathing rates go up, we may begin to sweat, our muscles tighten as our bodies prepare to take action. Mentally, we become focused on escaping or avoiding the danger, or conversely, we can become frozen in our tracks. We have all experienced this in some small way, such as in a close call while driving through an intersection.
If the threat subsides quickly, with little or no injury or damage, the fight or flight response ceases and our systems return to normal within a short period of time. However, the more severe the threat and/or injury, the more property damage there is and/or the longer the threat continues to be present, the more prolonged and severe are the fight or flight responses. This is the basis for traumatic stress and traumatic impact. As the body's biochemical systems continue to be significantly aroused, the more deeply entrenched the adverse affects become and the mind and body begin to deteriorate in their ability to function normally.
If there is early and appropriate intervention and resolution, the Acute Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms will subside within a few weeks and there will be few, if any, lingering affects. However, if the critical incident/ injury was severe, undermined a person's sense of safety, security and competency and/or was prolonged or cumulative to other stressors, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop. This diagnosis is not made until the symptoms have lasted at least one month. The symptoms and associated problems often continue for years without proper treatment.
If you suffer from traumatic impact, Acute Stress or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you are not crazy, weak, stupid or mentally ill. You are simply experiencing a normal human reaction to an abnormal event. Help is readily available.
Your Critical Incident Stress Management professional can refer you to the appropriate ongoing medical and mental health professionals that are specially trained to treat these problems. A combination of medications that correct the chemical imbalances associated with PTSD as well as cognitive therapy has proven to be the most effective course of treatment. This is a complicated mind/body disorder that requires a multi-faceted treatment approach.
Most importantly, it is your personal resolve and determination to overcome the effects of traumatic impact that will have the most influence in determining your outcome. Accepting the reality of traumatic impact as well as availing yourself of the help and support you need is of utmost importance. It is more than one person can accomplish on their own.