Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Do you think that the news regarding a possible war with Syria creates PTSD for veterans who have fought in wars?”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests itself in a broad variety of ways across a continuum. War affects individuals differently. It is true that after a war, some people are diagnosed with PTSD as a result of intense trauma. The emotional and psychological impact that occurs when in, or a part of a war has different affects on each individual. Persons affected by war(s) cannot be put into any one category, because human reactions are vastly different.
Some military and military personnel who have fought in wars are diagnosed with PTSD because they’ve likely experienced something psychologically intense and emotionally upsetting to traumatic. People with a medical diagnosis of PTSD may have been challenged by exposure to traumatic content related to war. Humans cope and deal with the aftermath of war differently.
Does the media’s ongoing coverage of specific events create distress? It’s absolutely possible. If we are exposed to upsetting images over and over again, it is likely these images (over time) will grow into stress response. Too much exposure to stress, based on emotional intensity of content can create increasingly vivid images that may be tied to troubling thoughts.
Consequently, the coverage about global conflicts can take an emotional toll that we’re often unaware of. It’s important to be aware of ways in which information impacts you. If possible, exposure needs to be monitored and followed by strong coping skills. If a person watching coverage about conflicts in Syria has a medical PTSD diagnosis from previous war experience, it is possible that an individual may experience some symptoms related to PTSD. However, exposure about the conflict in Syria from the news will not create PTSD. Instead, it could ignite negative symptoms according to the DSM-IV-TR.
On the other hand, not everyone in the military or military personnel experience PTSD related symptoms when exposed to content about global conflicts and/or. A diagnosis of PTSD can be treated over time with enough support.
Too often, we assume that people’s experiences, symptoms and mental health diagnoses are similar. More often than not, there are many degrees of difference. What causes one person to be devastated by the political news about Syria and another individual untouched, requires a lot of research. While we can hypothesize, we can’t ever know for sure.
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She is an adjunct professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology.
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