PTSDiaries 11: The Science of PTSD


This month the wonderful BJ Muntain will be swapping blog posts. BJ’s going to teach you all a lesson from the world of writing, and I will be teaching her fans a little bit about the world of PTSD, specifically, PTSD in service personnel such as first responders.

I’m supremely flattered that Miss Muntain considers me enough of an expert in PTSD to write about it, and I suppose that, in certain ways, the combination of a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and lived experience gives me a unique perspective into the world of trauma. I realised when I was researching for Miss Muntain’s post that I hadn’t really talked about the science or history behind PTSD on my blog at all.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is really freaking complicated. The disorder was mentioned in Religious texts dating back to the Ancient Greeks and the Bible, but it only began being recognised during and after World War One, when soldiers were returning from the battlefield with strange symptoms that psychologists and other medical professionals had difficulty explaining. It was thought that exposure to artillery shells caused these symptoms, so the disorder was named “shell shock”. When the same collections of symptoms appeared again in soldiers serving in World War Two, the medical community began to look into stress as a cause of mental disturbances. However, despite advances in psychology and mental health, PTSD was not added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) until the 1980’s.


Much like most psychological disorders, the exact cause of PTSD is unknown. Of course, PTSD is caused by trauma, but not everyone exposed to a traumatic situation will develop the disorder. The overall incidence of PTSD in police officers, for example, is only about 7-34%. Scientists have identified changes in the brain associated with PTSD. Areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning and the fear response have been found to be markedly different in those suffering from PTSD than a healthy control person (Pitman, Rasmusson, Koenen, Shin, Orr, Gilbertson…Liberzon, 2012). There are also differences in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in those suffering from PTSD (2012). Like most things in psychology, there is a question of whether or not the brain differences were pre-existing and therefore caused the person afflicted with PTSD to develop the disorder or if the brain changed as a result of the trauma, as the brain is wont to do.


Treating PTSD is complicated as well. PTSD is associated with other disorders (called “Comorbidity”) such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders (Bisson, Cosgrove, Lewis & Robert, 2015). I personally have lived with comorbid PTSD, anxiety and depression. There isn’t a lot of data on how to intervene in these cases, especially with comorbid substance abuse disorders (2015). PTSD can be treated, as you all know if you’ve been following the series, with prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapies, and with psychotropic medication.

It’s just a big old ball of fun, isn’t it? It’s hard not to be discouraged when looking at all that data. However, there is hope. I try to demonstrate it now when I blog about PTSD. I’m not that scared fourteen year old girl anymore that was so desperate for love that she fell into the trap of a predator. I recognise that some of you reading this might still be. When I was researching for this blog post, I came across so many great resources. I made a YouTube playlist of the videos that I found here, and I will be updating it as I find more. If you want to stay informed about trauma, or just want to know more than I’ve told you here, pop on by and check it out:

I’ve also added some pins about PTSD on my blog board here

I hope you all enjoyed this condensed look at the science and history of PTSD. If you would like to know more, feel free to comment and I will do my best to find you a resource that will be helpful.

Remember to like the post if you liked what you saw!


God bless,

Kelsey J.



Scholarly Sources:

Bisson, J. I., Cosgrove, S., Lewis, C., & Robert, N. P. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h6161. doi:10.1136/bmj.h6161

Pitman, R. K., Rasmusson, A. M., Koenen, K. C., Shin, L. M., Orr, S. P., Gilbertson, M. W.. . Liberzon, I. (2012). Biological studies of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 13(11), 769. doi:10.1038/nrn3339




One thought on “PTSDiaries 11: The Science of PTSD

  1. Kelsey,

    I very much appreciate your bravery in broaching the topic of PTSD in the first responder community. I too have struggled with similar issues, and have found claiming my voice to be critical in helping me move forward. Please continue, and all the best!


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