It was once called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue" because its symptoms were first identified in war veterans. But one study suggests that, whether a veteran of combat or a victim of accident or crime, your chances of facing the anxiety or depression of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may hinge as much on your personality as on your experience.
Inge Bramsen, a psychologist at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, tested 572 men who participated in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the former Yugoslavia for PTSD. Men who reported seeing the highest number of stressful events—shootings or dead people, for example—showed the most severe symptoms. But those who rated highest on personality traits such as negativism and paranoia before deployment also tended to show more signs of PTSD later. A hostile person may see more personal menace in events than others do, says Bramsen. An anxious person may also cope with stressful situations less effectively.
Bramsen believes that a better understanding of what causes PTSD might help to protect soldiers and others sent into harm's way. But, "I think we will never be able to prevent PTSD," she says. "It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation."