A Sri Lankan born British psychiatrist says Fonseka’s behavior shows symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder common among soldiers returning from combat
Posted on December 14th, 2009

Ratnapala de Silva

A Sri Lankan born British psychiatrist says Fonseka’s behavior shows symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a psychiatric problem common among soldiers returning from combat. After careful observations of the events that has caused considerable uproar in the political arena in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan psychiatrist said he is positive that Fonseka shows some kind of anxiety disorder with symptoms of anger, hypervigilance, problems with work and/or relationships, all common to PTSD.

The US Army’s first study of the mental health of troops who fought in Iraq found that about one in eight reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The survey also showed that less than half of those with problems sought help, mostly out of fear of being stigmatized or hurting their careers.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be prompted by many different kinds of traumatic events but it can be particularly debilitating when it occurs from events that were experienced on the battlefield.

While many people will experience a traumatic event in their lives at some point in time, they tend to commonly feel symptoms that are temporary and normal following the event. They might experience a decreased appetite, anxiety, concentration challenges and sleep disorders.

These symptoms, however, are generally short-lived and they decrease as time goes on. Yet, in some people they can be persistent and may, in fact, increase over time, leading to a diagnosis of PTSD.

It actually was not until the Vietnam War that PTSD was initially described as a disorder and received its name. When it was found that soldiers returning from the war could not adapt to ‘normal’ life afterwards, investigation into the possibility of a disorder occurred.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (commonly referred to by its acronym, PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event which results in psychological trauma and is believed to be caused by either physical trauma or psychological trauma, or more frequently a combination of both. Possible sources of trauma include . experiencing or witnessing an event perceived as life-threatening such as physical assault or employment in occupations exposed to war (such as soldiers)

PTSD is not only caused by the more obvious acts of war, but it may also result from a soldier’s experience in non-combat, where violence and aggression to civilians or enemy combatants may occur. Some of those who suffer from PTSD are also ones who have not partaken directly in any violence towards others but instead, suffer from guilt and frustration from observing the events or being associated with the acts.

Diagnostic symptoms include re-experiencing original trauma(s), by means of flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma; and increased arousal, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria  require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and/or relationships).

Symptoms may not occur immediately after the events – although their onset can still be rapid – but they may begin months or even years after the traumatic experience.

For soldiers, PTSD is a very real and difficult disorder to address and it can be quite widespread. In one recent study conducted by the Army in the United States, it was found that one in eight soldiers had experienced symptoms of PTSD. Perhaps more worrying was the fact that less than one half of those with these symptoms actually sought out help.

It has been suggested that fears regarding the stigma associated with mental health disorders may be responsible for such a large proportion essentially ignoring their symptoms and not speaking out about their problems. Soldiers are often meant to be seen as strong and there is a mistaken belief that any painful experiences that a soldier struggles to handle are a sign of weakness.

Ultimately, experts recommend that the barriers themselves be addressed, which should help to allow for soldiers to obtain treatment soon after they begin experiencing symptoms. By working to remove the stigma associated with mental health disorders such as PTSD, those who have fought in wars and suffered long-term consequences can obtain the treatment they need and deserve.

After diagnosis with PTSD, a solider can expect a combination of medication and therapy. There are also war veterans groups that are self-directed by participants and allow members to talk with others who have dealt with similar feelings and challenges related to PTSD and the war.

The best approach, however, remains to reach out initially to obtain diagnosis and treatment. By refusing to carry the trauma alone, a solider can take the important first step to healing his or her PTSD and can get back to feeling positive and healthy each day.

2 Responses to “A Sri Lankan born British psychiatrist says Fonseka’s behavior shows symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder common among soldiers returning from combat”

  1. PRIYAN WIJEYERATNE Says:

    I had a suspicion of this condition in general from the day number one and I am not a medical practitioner. I recommend the government of Sri Lanka to take swift action to control the man. He will be harming the Nation sooner than later. We need to persuade him to take professional treatment or if he is refusing then use Presidential powers to take him into protective custody and make him follow medical advise. He can not run for the Presidency of the country with this condition. We can’t let a mad man run riot, especially at this very important time of our Nation.

  2. kumara 1037 Says:

    Very good article to read by all Sri lankans before taking your decision in the forth coming presidential election.

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