PUTNAM COUNTY — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, has become a houshold term, an acronym brought up during dinner conversations and at water coolers, and has served as a relatively rare rationalization for random acts of violence against others, and, more frequently, against the self. And rightly so.

The Class of 2018, those students who so proudly matriculated up and out of their high schools over the past several weeks have, for all intents and purposes, never known peace time. This nation has been at war for nearly 17 years. And that is both the point and the counterpoint for any serious discussion about PTSD, for while the general public — civilians — commonly associate PTSD with veterans returning from combat, the disorder has a significantly greater reach; one that includes virtually every breathing man, woman, and child on the planet.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trauma as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.”

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, right?” said Aaron Baumgartner, executive director of Pathways Counseling Center, Ottawa. “It seems like it’s been around forever and it tends to get thrown out as an explanation for some kind of abherent behavior, especially related to combat vets. I think now we’re making some headway in understanding trauma, and that it indeed is not simply a characteristic of combat vets. We see it in children of all ages, in people who have never served. I think what’s true is trauma is so ubiquitous that we need to be better about understanding the response people have from trauma.”

Baumgartner went on to explain he’d just returned from a trauma-focused conference, and of the dozens of participants in attendance he had met and the clinical workshops presented, only one was active military.

“The other trainings, the other focus, was not about the military. It was about the trauma of life, the trauma of abuse from childhood on up: domestic, crime, the list goes on and on,” Baumgartner said.

Which is not to say veterans are unaffected. As individuals thrust into a crucible of stress and chaotic violence in what are often alien environments, trauma is a fact of life for those who have experienced combat. According to the National Center for PTSD, statistically, though dependent on the type of service and where they served, 12 to 20 percent of combat veterans experience PTSD. However, seven to eight percent of civilians, those who have never served in the military, are also diagnosed.

But PTSD is not the trauma itself. Rather, it’s a response.

“It depends on how we interpret [trauma] and it really depends on the support that we have,” Baumgartner said. “It’s very different for child to be abused by a cousin than it is to be abused by a father. One is a designated care giver, the other might be a casual relationship. Elements like that matter. It really depends, when we’re helping someone with trauma, it depends on their perspective, not ours. There are people made of some really tough stuff, and we can’t put our own ideas on them and make it work. They have to tell us what their experience was like. It’s very easy to recognize a physical injury. An emotional trauma is not as easy to see.”

Addressing that very point, Kristi Powell, veteran service officer with the Putnam County Veteran Service Commission, remarked that self-identification is key to addressing the crisis that is PTSD, whether a combat veteran or a civilian who has experienced a car crash, someone who has witnessed or had violence acted upon them. In short, recognition of a problem is the first step to recovery, but that first step, in a society where we are trained to “keep calm and carry on”, isn’t easy.

To that end, Baumgartner and the service officers at PCVSC recommend that family members and friends intervene, when necessary.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

• re-experiencing the traumatic event in nightmares or, in extreme cases, as a flashback;

• avoiding situations reminiscent of the traumatic event;

• negative changes in beliefs or feelings;

• depression;

• hyperarousal.