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How Does PTSD occur?

PTSD is often associated with veterans, but it’s important to know how common PTSD is among civilian contractors. How does PTSD occur?

Post-traumatic stress can happen to anyone who’s experienced a traumatic or life-threatening event during military combat, or in natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, violent personal attacks, sexual assault, or childhood abuse

PTSD is Common

Some 4.4 percent of Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Civilian contractors working in war zones are vulnerable to post traumatic stress disorder. You might be placed in dangerous situations, as much at risk as the military, manning check points, collecting intelligence, working with bomb-sniffing dogs or monitoring improvised explosive devices that could detonate. Something violent or life threatening could occur in any of those situations.

What Leads to PTSD?

So what happens in these events that leads to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder?) According to Mental Health America, when something traumatic occurs, changes take place in the brain that effect stress response mechanisms. Studies have shown that parts of the brain that regulate stress responses are structurally and functionally altered by the trauma.

Changes in the Brain

Because of these changes in the brain, a person can lose the ability to distinguish between past and present experiences or interpret the context in which something is taking place.

In other words, you might hear a loud noise and not realize that you’re safe and at home now, and not in a combat zone where your life is being threatened. Or you might have a nightmare and feel like the memory is taking place right now, instead of in the past. The feelings associated with that experience, the fear and anxiety, are real and can hurt one’s ability to function.

Anyone Can Experience PTSD

Mental health research shows that just about anyone can experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Besides the trauma, however, there are a few other risk factors that can add to the potential for developing it. One is having little or no support for processing the trauma right after it happens. Another risk factor might be dealing with extra stress, say, the loss of a loved one or a job, after the event. Another might be having a history of mental health issues or substance abuse.

The Brain Can Be Reprogrammed

The good news is that the brain has the capacity to regenerate cells related to stress responses. It can be “reprogrammed” so the way you handle stress can change. With treatment, it’s possible that you’ll no longer react with excessive fear, anger, guilt, or anxiety to the more ordinary stresses of everyday life. You can regain the ability to function in a healthy way at work and at home.

Are you a civilian contractor heading into or returning from a war zone and feeling like you’re not yourself? Were you exposed to violence, IEDs, sniper fire or other types of non-stop attacks or high risk situations?

be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’ve returned from war and think you are having PTSD symptoms or experiences after the work that you did overseas for a Department of Defense Contractor, you are entitled to help. Learn about your rights from the Defense Base Act Law before you’re assigned to duty or after you return.