The Connection Between Humans, PTSD… And Elephants?!

From recent studies, we’ve learned a lot more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but some of the studies’ subjects are not who you’d expect: elephants. Yep… researchers have discovered elephants are very similar to humans when it comes to the effects of stress and trauma.

Elephants have amazed humans for centuries; with their massive size and sheer strength, the social structure of elephants is remarkable – now, we’re learning more about their emotional capacity.

The breakthrough discovery? Elephants can feel traumatized like humans. Their stress can come from destroyed habitats, being taken into captivity and witnessing the poaching and killing of fellow elephants. The long-term effects of this trauma reveal themselves when elephants rage and attack, as if they’ve carried these emotions with them through the years, then one day they snap and turn violent. Researchers say it’s PTSD.

“To diagnose an elephant with PTSD is novel, but that’s because we have denied elephants the capacity of having a mind, having emotions. All the neuroscience says, yes, it’s there, and the behavior confirms it,” says Gay Bradshaw, director of a research institute called The Kerulos Center.

PTSD in humans and elephants

A joint team of researchers from Kenya and the United States compared PTSD in humans to the same conditions in animals. Like elephants who suddenly lash out at their handlers or other animals, humans who suffer from untreated PTSD may turn violent or commit crimes due to built-up anxiety. It was found that orphaned elephants who were given safe, structured and supportive environments by introducing father-figure-type males began to calm down and feel content.

Humans, however, take it a few steps further. Because humans voice their feelings, we have learned that people with PTSD have nightmares, flashbacks and experience much anxiety. Humans may also self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. But just like elephants, traumatized humans need acceptance, support and understanding from family, friends and sometimes society in general, in order to recover. Humans also require professional help to manage their PTSD.

The hope is that our awareness will continue to grow so that we can help more people – and elephants – find happiness.

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