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Emotional Trauma - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as it is periodically revised provides the standard for diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since 1980 this standard has been defined as a psychologically traumatic event that is generally outside the range of human experience. It consists of symptoms following exposure to extreme traumatic stress or involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury. It can also involve witnessing an event that involves death or serious injury to another person. In some rare cases it might also involve learning of an unexpected or violent death or serious harm experienced by a family member or close associate.

PTSD as it is known frequently occurs during war. The Vietnam War particularly brought PTSD to the forefront. In diagnosis PTSD, the Psychiatrist will look for exposure to a traumatic event, persistently re-experiencing the event, persistently avoiding stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness and persistent symptoms of increased arousal. For example, the client could have recurring dreams or intense distress to events that resemble an aspect of the event. They frequently attempt to avoid things that might bring back memories of the event. They often have difficulty falling asleep, have incidents of anger, have difficulty concentrating on tasks or ideas and often have an exaggerated response to certain stimuli.

In order to prove PTSD one would need an expert witness. The testimony would have to be based upon actual examination and treatment of the client. Family and friends can be important witnesses as well. There must be proof of the time period before the event indicating normal behavior. The event itself must likewise be proved. The behavioral changes after the event must also be proved.

The defense attorney will most certainly try to debunk the PTSD diagnosis. Moreover, he will look for prior mental problems the client had, including whether the client ever met with a psychologist, psychiatrist or marriage counselor. He will try to determine if the client ever was on medication for emotional issues. Because PTSD is not a well understood phenomenon it is important to have a plaintiff’s attorney well versed in all the nuances involved in a PTSD claim.

In actuality, a person can have PTSD not only by directly being involved in a traumatic event but also by being in a zone of danger where another person is injured is a significantly traumatic circumstance.

It is important to note that stress does not have to rise to the level of post-traumatic stress disorder in order to be actionable. Often, in accidents, a person is very stressed by the event itself or subsequent issues caused by the initial event.

It is important that a client understand that once he or she puts his or her emotional status in a case as an issue, it may well open the door for defense counsel to interrogate all aspects of prior emotional issues. It is unpredictable how a judge may rule on an issue regarding what is relevant and material so the client needs to know that his or her entire life history could become evidence in a case. Often, when a person is speaking to some type of counsellor regarding emotional issues, they are asked embarrassing questions about personal and family issues. If there is prior history involving a counsellor in custody cases, there may be some interrogation into those areas to the extent the overlap any of the issues in an accident case. This is a very unsettled area of the law that needs to be carefully considered before making a big deal out of stress and emotional trauma issues.

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