A scene from the mass shooting at Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on Monday. / H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
Post-traumatic stress disorder -- a mental health illness reportedly linked Monday to the man who allegedly killed 12 people at Washington Navy Yard -- has been characterized as one of the signature wounds, along with traumatic brain injury, of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Key questions:
What is PTSD?
The disorder is primarily defined by highly intrusive memories, flashbacks or nightmares related to a traumatic event. Those who suffer it may tend to avoid people or places that might trigger those memories or a negative sense of oneself, along with feelings of detachment, anger, guilt or shame. The disorder also can lead to sense of hyper-vigilance, irritability, aggression and insomnia.
What causes it?
Most people associate it with troops exposed to intense combat. However, it is frequently an illness affecting civilians, developed by people who have been sexually assaulted or survived a traffic accident or other traumatic event.
How many suffer from it?
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 7.7 million American adults or 3.5% of the population have developed PTSD. An Institute of Medicine study reported that possibly 13%-20% of the 2.6 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has treated nearly 300,000 for the illness.
Can it lead to violence?
A recent Defense Department health blog said that while violence typically does not occur among veterans with PTSD, some research suggests that combat veterans may be a greater risk for violent acts. A recent study found that persistent anger, a symptom of the illness, can lead to aggression and even severe acts of violence against family members or strangers. But most authorities say that more study is necessary on the issue of violence linked to PTSD.
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