Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trigger warning: This section mentions several types of traumatic events.


     The DSM-5 classifies Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a Trauma- and Stressor-related disorder. It is triggered by the experience or witnessing a traumatic and/or extremely stressful event such as death, sexual violence, injury, accident, terrorist act, or natural disaster. Among the various symptoms associated with PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, mental or physical distress, and “negative alterations in cognitions or mood associated with the event” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.275). Various triggers can lead one to re-experience the traumatic event through “involuntary and intrusive recollections of the event” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.275), thematically related representation, and associated stimuli (i.e., physical sensations, noises). “Individuals with PTSD may be quick-tempered […], engage in reckless or self-destructive behavior […], [and have a] heightened sensitivity to potential threats, including those that are related to the traumatic experience […] and those not related to the traumatic event” (American Psychiatric Associations, 2013, p.276). 

      For students, having PTSD means being likely to react to sensitive content and having the need to refrain from specific exercises, discussions, or the use of certain materials. Someone with PTSD should not be pressured into talking about their experiences, however, they may need to talk about it when they are ready to do so. When someone is having an episode (i.e., flashback, panic attack), they might feel detached from their own body (disassociation); reminding them of their surroundings, encouraging them to take deep, slow breaths, and avoiding triggering gestures (touch, sudden moves) can help. Always ask the person before touching them: though meant as comforting, a touch can lead to greater agitation. PTSD is physically and emotionally very challenging: before using sensitive materials (for readings, during a lecture, a presentation, an exam, and take-home assignments), a trigger warning is thus essential.  

     The situations stated above are the main challenges students with PTSD face. Coupled with the use of alternative documents so that the student can still study relevant materials, trigger warnings can avoid most of this situation as they allow everyone to choose for themselves whether they can handle exposure to sensitive content. To avoid redundancy, there is no table in this section.