Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD – is an anxiety disorder following a traumatic event that can disrupt all aspects of a person’s life. You might be hearing about it in the news, on TV dramas, and maybe from people you know who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Actually, it’s more common than you might think – researchers estimate that at least 50 percent of us will experience or witness a traumatic event in our lives, and many of us will experience PTSD symptoms. An upcoming three-part documentary series, This Emotional Life (PBS, January 4-6, 2010) reveals the serious impact that PTSD can have on sufferers’ lives, with a special look at its impact on service members and their families. Watch the trailer:

In this video, Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, Director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine, discusses the fundamental questions about PTSD.

And according to experts in the series, here’s a Q&A about PTSD, why it’s important for us to understand, and how to recognize the signs – and get help.

Q: What is PTSD?
A: After experiencing a traumatic event, it is natural to feel distress and upsetting feelings. In many cases, the lingering emotional effects go away after a few months, but when they persist for many months and cause difficulties in many aspects of life – from work to sleep to interactions with others – it is symptomatic of PTSD. Common situations that can lead to PTSD include witnessing or experiencing terrible injury or danger to a loved one, rape, assault, and war.

Q: What are the symptoms of PTSD?
A: There are three “clusters” of symptoms of PTSD. The first are the “re-experiencing the trauma” symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks. The next are the “avoidance” symptoms – sufferers don’t want to talk about their experiences and will often shut down emotionally. The third group of symptoms is the “physical arousal” symptoms group, including hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems sleeping and concentrating, and irritability.

Q: Can PTSD be treated?
A: There are several options for treatment for PTSD. People can learn to be the people they were before the treatment – it doesn’t happen for everyone, but there are many examples. Treatment strategies that have demonstrated success include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy (“re-living” or re-telling the experience in a controlled way), eye-movement therapy, and medication. Learn more about these approaches.

Q: How does PTSD impact people who serve in the military?
A: PTSD is complex for members of the military who return home from war. Not only do members of the armed forces witness or experience traumatic scenarios and events, but they often come home to families, colleagues and neighbors who can’t imagine what war is like. It can be an overwhelming experience, and many service members show signs of PTSD; some studies show it approaches 30 percent returning from combat. It’s critically important for veterans to receive the support they need – both professionally and from their communities. Watch this video from Iraq veteran, Bob, who shares his experience with this difficult condition.


Check out the “Perspectives” feature of the This Emotional Life Web site, with video clips, behind-the-scenes interviews, and blogs from celebrities, experts, and amazing real people featured in the project. From stress to happiness to PTSD and resilience, “Perspectives” connects people with stories and conditions and expert insight that’s only available here.

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Ben Wakana
On behalf of This Emotional Life
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Premiering January 4, 2010