Vietnam Made The World Aware of PTSD
Although the medical community had long recognized the lasting psychological effects of combat, soldiers returning from the Vietnam War brought the issue to the public consciousness. Previously called shell shock, the unique set of symptoms experienced by war veterans and others who have been through or witnessed extremely traumatic events eventually come to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental health condition is characterized by flashbacks (reliving of the traumatic event), which can occur while sleeping or awake. These flashbacks are different from memories in that they force the sufferer to feel like they are living through the event again. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of Vietnam vets experienced PTSD at some point. Because the disorder was so poorly understood in the 1960s and 1970s, the true number affected may be much higher. Certain situations can trigger flashbacks, causing PTSD patients to avoid things that may remind them of their trauma. Many vets with PTSD experience an overwhelming sense of negative feelings and hypervigilance, or constant alertness and unease about potential threats. PTSD is a leading risk factor for substance abuse and suicide among veterans.