What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
If you or a loved one experienced or witnessed a traumatic or unusually stressful event, it is natural and normal to feel afraid, anxious, or distressed afterwards. In some cases, however, an upsetting experience can develop into a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A person with PTSD may struggle with their ability to maintain relationships, fulfill their work responsibilities, or perform daily activities. They may try not to think about what happened, or engage in unhealthy coping methods.
Data from Harvard Medical School found that, in 2007, an estimated 3.6 percent of U.S. adults (more than 9 million individuals) had PTSD in the past year. However, many cases may go unreported, so the actual rate could be much higher.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD can happen to just about anyone who experiences or witnesses trauma. A person may develop PTSD from stressors like:
- Military combat or battle
- Death of a loved one
- Violent crime, including assault or school shooting
- Traffic accident
- Natural disaster
- Ongoing abuse, neglect, or persecution
Some risk factors for PTSD include:
- Feeling helpless about the event
- Lack of social support
- Dealing with additional stress after the event
- History of mental illness or substance abuse
What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
There are several groups of symptoms that develop with PTSD:
- Re-experiencing symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, or uncontrollable thoughts about the triggering event
- Avoidance symptoms, which include avoiding thoughts or places that remind you of the event, or avoiding talking about the event
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms, which include difficulty sleeping, emotional outbursts, or feeling tense or easily startled
- Cognition and mood symptoms, which include difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event, feeling overwhelming guilt or shame, or losing interest in previously enjoyable activities
When these symptoms persist long after the traumatic event, this may indicate PTSD.
How do I learn if I have PTSD?
If you are concerned about symptoms of PTSD, you can make an appointment with your family doctor. A psychiatrist or therapist who has experience with trauma can also diagnose PTSD.
For an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD, he or she must meet the following criteria for at least one month:
- A re-experiencing symptom
- An avoidance symptoms
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
We also offer an anonymous online screen to help you figure out more about your symptoms and if further evaluation is needed.