About two-thirds of people diagnosed with PTSD eventually recover. “The vast majority of people actually do OK in the face of horrendous stresses and traumas,” says Robert Ursano, director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Ursano and other researchers want to know what underlies people’s mental strength. “How does one understand the resilience of the human spirit?” he asks.
Since the 1970s, scientists have learned that several psychosocial factors — such as strong social networks, recalling and confronting fears and an optimistic outlook — help people to recover. But today, scientists in the field are searching for the biological factors involved. Some have found specific genetic variants in humans and in animals that influence an individual’s odds of developing PTSD. Other groups are investigating how the body and brain change during the recovery process and why psychological interventions do not always work. The hope is that this research might lead to therapies that enhance resilience.