Learn about PTSD
Posttraumatic stress disorder is a form of mental illness that develops in the aftermath of one or more traumatic events. Commonly referred to as PTSD, this mental health disorder can impact individuals who have directly experienced, witnessed, or even learned about the details of a traumatic event.
Military combat is one of the more widely recognized experiences that can lead to PTSD, but it is far from the only cause. Automobile accidents, physical assault, sexual abuse, terror attacks, natural disasters, and serious illnesses are among the many other events that can lead to PTSD.
It is absolutely normal to react negatively in the aftermath of trauma. Sadness, fear, anxiety, and other similar emotions are to be expected for a limited period of time after trauma. However, if such feelings persist, if they are accompanied by the experiences listed in the “Signs and Symptoms” section below, and if they are distressing enough that they impact your thoughts and actions, then you may have developed PTSD.
The good news is that posttraumatic stress disorder is treatable. With the right type and level of professional care, you can learn to manage your symptoms and once again enjoy a healthy and satisfying life.
The National Center for PTSD has collected the following information related to the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder among adolescents and adults in the United States:
- More than 50% of all adults in the United States will experience at least one traumatic occurrence in their lives.
- About 8% of the U.S. population will develop PTSD.
- In a typical year, about 8.5 million men and women, or between 3% and 4% of the adult population in the U.S., will struggle with symptoms of PTSD.
- About 5% of young people in the U.S. will meet the criteria for PTSD before they complete adolescence.
- Among younger children, three out of every four cases of PTSD involve neglect.
- Among older children and adolescents, about half of all PTSD cases involve physical and/or sexual assault.
Causes and risk factors for PTSD
All cases of posttraumatic stress disorder occur in the aftermath of one or more traumatic events. However, not everyone who suffers trauma develops PTSD. The likelihood that a person will experience PTSD following a trauma may be influenced by several factors, including the following:
- Gender (PTSD is more common among girls and women who experience trauma than among boys and men)
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of mental illness
- Personal history of abuse, neglect, or other forms of childhood adversity
- Experiencing multiple traumatic events
- Experiencing particularly severe forms of trauma
- Possessing certain temperaments, such as negative appraisals and inappropriate coping abilities
- Living in poverty
- Lower educational achievement
- Lack of effective social support
Signs and symptoms of PTSD
The signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder may vary from person to person based on a wide range of individual factors. However, the following are among the more common indicators that a person may be struggling with PTSD:
- Abusing alcohol and/or other drugs
- Acting in an uncharacteristically risky, reckless, or dangerous manner
- Getting in fights, destroying property, or otherwise behaving violently
- Avoiding events, experiences, and/or individuals who remind a person of the trauma
- Pervasive fatigue
- Sense of hyperarousal
- Exaggerated startle response
- Finding it difficult or impossible to focus or concentrate
- Consistently feeling that one is in danger
- Experiencing recurring, intrusive, distressing memories of the trauma
- Having vivid nightmares
- Depersonalization and/or derealization
- Dramatic mood swings
- Unprovoked anger
- Pulling away from family and friends
Effects of PTSD
If you develop PTSD but do not receive effective treatment for this disorder, you may put yourself at risk for a variety of negative short- and long-term outcomes, including but not limited to the following:
- Abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol or other drugs
- Physical harm due to reckless or violent behaviors
- Strained or ruined friendships or other relationships
- Family discord
- Substandard performance in school or at work
- Academic failure
- Job loss and chronic unemployment
- Financial distress
- Pervasive sense of hopelessness and/or helplessness
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
PTSD & co-occurring disorders
If you have developed posttraumatic stress disorder, you may have an increased likelihood of also developing certain co-occurring mental health disorders, such as the following:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder