Mental health awareness is gaining ground in contemporary society, yet there is still a great deal of confusion around certain concepts. This includes understanding the difference between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and posttraumatic stress injury (PTSI). The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences that need to be recognised.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. This could include experiences such as natural disasters, severe accidents, terrorist incidents, war, or other violent personal assaults. PTSD is characterised by intrusive memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders, changes in thoughts and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.
What is PTSI?
On the other hand, PTSI is a relatively new term being advocated by a growing number of mental health professionals. The key distinction between PTSD and PTSI lies in the designation of “disorder” versus “injury”. PTSI is viewed as a normal response to abnormal circumstances. Essentially, it suggests that the person is not “disordered” but has sustained an “injury” as a result of exposure to a traumatic event.
The terminology of PTSI is seen as less stigmatizing and more accurate in describing the condition. It recognises that the symptoms experienced are not a sign of weakness or a personal failing, but rather a response to trauma, akin to a physical injury.
Despite the differing terminology, the symptoms of PTSD and PTSI are identical. Both conditions can manifest through intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, negative changes in mood and cognition, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. They can severely impact a person’s daily life, affecting their ability to work, form relationships, and engage in social activities. Both conditions can also lead to other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
However, the distinction between PTSD and PTSI has profound implications for the perception and treatment of trauma-related symptoms. By framing the condition as an injury rather than a disorder, PTSI reframes the conversation about trauma and its impact.
The term PTSD can sometimes convey the idea that the person is inherently flawed or broken. In contrast, the term PTSI emphasises that the person has sustained an injury due to an external event. This shift in perspective can help eliminate the stigma associated with trauma-related conditions, allowing for more open conversations and better support.
In terms of treatment, the emphasis on injury can also encourage a more holistic approach. In addition to psychiatric treatment methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), other supportive therapies that address the physical and emotional components of the ‘injury’ may be considered. This could include physical therapy, yoga, mindfulness, and stress management techniques.
While PTSD and PTSI essentially refer to the same set of symptoms, the terminology used has significant implications. The growing use of the term PTSI reflects a shift in how we understand and approach trauma-related conditions. By focusing on the traumatic event as the cause of the ‘injury,’ it takes the blame off the individual, encouraging a more compassionate and comprehensive approach to treatment and recovery.
Through further awareness and understanding, we can ensure that those impacted by trauma receive the appropriate support and care they deserve. Ultimately, whether one uses the term PTSD or PTSI, the goal should always be to foster empathy, support, and effective treatment for those affected.
Jefferson McAllister, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with a keen interest in trauma and mental health stigma reduction. He believes in the power of words to reshape perceptions and encourage healing.