Is PTSD Contagious? – Samantha Kovnat

Imagine, living in a house in which you have to constantly walk on eggshells. Always having to complete the check list of things you must do in the back of your mind, so as to avoid upsetting your parent, sibling, or husband. Hoping upon hope to just get through the day without a screaming outburst, let alone a violent one. This is the life of an individual with a family member who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Living with a real life time bomb, or PTSD effected war veteran, has proven to create ripple effects on the mental health of those around them; meaning the ones who are most effected by seeing them in pain, get hurt the most. This logic can be simplified in terms of PTSD being a disorder that is in fact contagious to those in direct contact with a person who is severely suffering from it. It is very common in households to pick up the small quirks of those around you. You might have a slight Philly accent from your Philadelphia born parents, or have a tendency to easily put too much on your plate, and get overwhelmed, because you have seen your mother do it time and again. In this way, people naturally adapt to their surroundings and often pick up habits, massive tendencies, or even trauma from those around them.

A very similar situation to PTSD families, is one involving families who have a member, or members with a mental illness such as borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder. If one were to interview the “bystanders” in that household, be it younger siblings, or spouses, it would be clear from the get go that when one person is in pain, and struggling, the whole family feels it. Ask any parent, and they will tell you that to see their child struggle, or endure pain, is the hardest thing to watch. In the case of mental disorders, PTSD included, it seems like family members are forced to struggle, longing to be able to help, or “fix” them, but are really not capable of doing so.

When stating that PTSD is contagious, that does not mean that anyone that shakes hands, or shares a soda pop with the effected person is going to be post traumatic stress disorder positive, thats highly irrational thinking. It just means that if the person with PTSD is around someone so much that that individual experiences their own trauma because of the PTSD, it is likely that they may receive PTSD shrapnel (in the form of trauma). Post traumatic stress disorder absolutely can be transferred to the loved ones in constant contact with them, because when you witness someone who is being internally tormented it is absolutely traumatizing. Live with it everyday of your life, and you may find yourself beginning to pick up some of their disorder. How could you not? When your brain allows itself to register their actions as normalcy, you begin to become confused as to how to react and interpret the world around you. You become lost within a mind full of trauma that is not your own, stuck it a household that is only making it worse, with little to no solution on the horizon.

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3 Responses to Is PTSD Contagious? – Samantha Kovnat

  1. davidbdale says:

    This sounds deeply felt, Sammy, and well worth talking with you about, which I hope to have a chance to do. Here though, for a moment, I’d like to help with something technical.

    Among the hardest conversational effects to shed in search of an academic tone is our readiness to generalize experience by appealing to “you.” Even things that have only happened to one person in the history of the world can be generalized in this way, as when Michael Phelps says, “When you win nine gold medals in about a week, strange things happen to your head.” Really, Michael? Everybody you’ve talked to whose won nine golds feels that way?

    You use this conversational technique in your example of growing up in South Philly. In that paragraph you shift from passive verbs that have no actor, to “you” language that makes the reader the actor, to active verbs in which “people” are the actors.

    This logic can be simplified in terms of PTSD being a disorder that is in fact contagious to those in direct contact with a person who is severely suffering from it. It is very common in households to pick up the small quirks of those around you. You might have a slight Philly accent from your Philadelphia born parents, or have a tendency to easily put too much on your plate, and get overwhelmed, because you have seen your mother do it time and again. In this way, people naturally adapt to their surroundings and often pick up habits, massive tendencies, or even trauma from those around them.

    All these voices can be simplified and unified to smooth your readers’ experience.

    Describing PTSD as contagious simplifies our conversation about it. Just as people pick up accents and innocuous behavior quirks like overloading our plates from those around us as adaptive behaviors, we can even absorb traumas from those we live with every day.

    I hope this example is helpful. You can easily adapt it in other locations in your essay (and future essays). Please notice the magical transformations performed by the first person plural pronoun “we.” Nothing else so powerfully and quickly creates empathy with our readers than acknowledging our shared experience of human behavior with them.

    Does this help?

  2. kovnat77 says:

    This definitely helps me! I find that my biggest struggle with my writing has always been my accidental shift of perspective and slight wordiness. It makes it more difficult since have a hard time seeing it as i write. It really helps that you point this out to me, especially because i find it hard to mentally reform a sentence once i have already completed the response/essay/etc.

  3. davidbdale says:

    You’ve come so far since this early, earnest, perfectly acceptable effort, Sammy. I hope it disturbs you now to see how many, many words you invest in ideas that can be expressed so briefly.

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