According to the US Department of Veteran affairs 7-8% of the population will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives (VA.gov, 2014). PTSD is not limited to those who have served in the military. In fact, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists are predicting significant increases in PTSD manifestation across the globe (Galea, Merchan, & Lurie, 2020). Today we are going to break down PTSD!
Like all psychiatric conditions, PTSD has both a genetic and environmental component. If an individual does not have the genetic predisposition toward the condition, an environmental insult will not cause the development of the disorder. This is the reason why some people can experience incredibly traumatic experiences yet not show signs of PTSD (Sherin & Nemeroff, 2011).
There are several neurological changes that are commonly associated with PTSD. Current research suggests that norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter signal that your nervous system uses in arousal and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) responses, interacts with the amygdala and hippocampus, the emotional processing and memory centers of the brain, to condition your body to exhibit high levels of stress and fear in response to these emotionally-laced memories (Sherin & Nemeroff, 2011).
While these findings have prompted further research into pharmacological treatments for PTSD, they should be taken with a grain of salt. The fact of the matter is, most, if not all, studies on human beings with PTSD show correlation not causation. If we wanted to prove that the “X” mechanism causes PTSD we would have to manipulate variables to induce PTSD in test subjects, which would be incredibly unethical. Our best bet is to develop hypotheses for these mechanisms, and test the validity of our guess-based on which treatments work!