When it comes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, most agree that the higher the “dose” of trauma, the greater the likelihood of getting PTSD.
By Christine Cissy White
There is no disputing the relationship between trauma and PTSD. But the focus areas of each illness need more thought. Studies of veterans focus on the amount of combat trauma a soldier experiences. Rarely do studies consider the “dose” of pre-deployment trauma experienced before a soldier is on the battlefield.
Consider the words of Dr. Beth Grady, a pediatrician in San Francisco. “You can be deployed to a combat situation in Afghanistan, and your risk of developing PTSD is not significantly increased by the nature or duration of your combat exposure. What does increase your risk of developing PTSD is whether or not you’ve experienced childhood adversity.”
Dr. Grady cited the study of 746 Danish soldiers deployed to Afghanistan for six months in 2009 who had PTSD symptoms monitored five times (once, pre-deployment, once during deployment, and three times in the first eight months’ home).
Dorthe Bernsten of Aarhus University in Denmark worked with researchers from Duke University in North Carolina and published results in the Psychological Science. Their work grouped participants into two groups called “resilient” and “non-resilient.” From the resilient group, 84 percent of the soldiers had little to no PTSD symptoms at any time. From the “non-resilient” group, 17 percent of the soldiers had moderate to high PTSD symptoms at least once.
What differentiated the two groups was not the amount of combat trauma but the amount of traumatic stress they experienced, pre-deployment. Those who witnessed domestic violence, severe punishment that resulted in cuts, broken bones, burns, and bruises suffered more PTSD symptoms. These results were similar to research conducted by groundbreaking Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, which is one of the most significant investigations of childhood abuse, neglect, later-life health, and well-being.
Because PTSD causes severe and sometimes life-threatening symptoms, it is a diagnosis shared by civilians and soldiers alike. But these are not always two distinct groups. Soldiers are children and civilians first. We can’t ignore the “dose” of trauma soldiers live with and suffer from, whether it’s from combat or childhood, at home or abroad. Similarly, civilians who are not members of the armed services can be impacted by their childhood experiences as well. Abusive parent’s impact on their children may not manifest until they become adults. That was another finding of the ACE study.
It’s apparent trauma, and PTSD is connected and touch soldiers and civilians. They are ailments that are manifested mostly through one’s lifetime experiences. It’s rare to have one without the other.