Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that begins after a traumatic event. That event may involve a real or perceived threat of injury or death.
This can include:
- a natural disaster like an earthquake or tornado
- military combat
- physical or sexual assault or abuse
- an accident
Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with ability to go about normal daily tasks.
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:
- Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
Intensity of symptoms
PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have more PTSD symptoms when you're stressed in general, or when you come across reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences. Or you may see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.
Doctors aren't sure why some people get PTSD. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:
- Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you've gone through in your life
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited features of your personality — often called your temperament
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress
People of all ages can have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, some factors may make you more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, such as:
- Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
- Having experienced other trauma earlier in life, such as childhood abuse
- Having a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events, such as military personnel and first responders
- Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Having problems with substance misuse, such as excess drinking or drug use
- Lacking a good support system of family and friends
- Having blood relatives with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression
Kinds of traumatic events
The most common events leading to the development of PTSD include:
- Combat exposure
- Childhood physical abuse
- Sexual violence
- Physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- An accident
Many other traumatic events also can lead to PTSD, such as fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life-threatening events.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can disrupt whole life ― job, relationships, health and enjoyment of everyday activities.
Having PTSD may also increase risk of other mental health problems, such as:
- Depression and anxiety
- Issues with drugs or alcohol use
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
After surviving a traumatic event, many people have PTSD-like symptoms at first, such as being unable to stop thinking about what's happened. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt — all are common reactions to trauma. However, the majority of people exposed to trauma do not develop long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.
Getting timely help and support may prevent normal stress reactions from getting worse and developing into PTSD. This may mean turning to family and friends who will listen and offer comfort. It may mean seeking out a mental health professional for a brief course of therapy. Some people may also find it helpful to turn to their faith community.
Support from others also may help prevent from turning to unhealthy coping methods, such as misuse of alcohol or drugs.
this remedy covers a lot of fears and anxieties that lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Your mind can’t stop playing the same trauma over and over again. You can only focus on the negative-worrying, perhaps, that something bad will happen to you or a loved one. You may be overly concerned about germs or your health, to the point of hypochondria.
Often follows a sudden, unexpected trauma, such as an earthquake or car accident. A deep fear of death sends you into a panic state. You can feel your heart beating at a rapid pace that comes on all of a sudden. You may feel faint, along with perspiration and trembling. Things that would not have bothered you before can trigger panic attacks, such as driving on a freeway, getting into an elevator, or flying in an airplane. “I went to the supermarket and on the way in the car, I thought I would die,” is the type of statement you might make.
Very anxious, especially about health. I call it “Monkey Brain,” when patients can only focus on their health or lack of it, convinced that every minor ache or ailment is the symptom of a fatal disease, and tend to go from doctor to doctor to get diagnoses. Lots of fear-heights, crowds, small spaces, etc. They have a need to express their feelings in an impulsive way with anyone who will listen. They have a feeling of impending doom, like some evil force is coming for them.
Night fears and nightmares. Fear of the dark, animals, violence, and being alone. Terrifying nightmares, waking up panic-stricken and full of anxiety. Anxiety turns into destructive and malicious behavior, an out-of-control feeling, and anger. The fears are so deep that they bring on panic. Nighttime is the worst. Patients can’t stand to be alone. Their reaction to fear is violence. They feel they need to protect themselves, so are always on the attack. This is how they survive.
Hypersensitive to sound, light, smell, and even others’ emotions. Their emotions are raw, like exposed nerves. They feel they are being tormented or ridiculed, and have a dread that something bad will happen to them. May have many phobias, such as fear of driving, flying, injury, suffocation. May also fear being alone, even though they tend to do better by themselves in a quiet room without much light. They have an irrational fear of water, either seeing it or just thinking of it. They have been bitten by an animal and had fears since then. They may turn violent and abusive.e.t.c