Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing a horrific event. About 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at some point in their lives, and roughly 20% of these people will go on to develop PTSD. At any given time, about 8% of Americans have PTSD, which equals about 24.4 million people. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men.
Symptoms for this disorder can start as soon as three months after the traumatic event. However, for some, they may not appear until years later. There are four main types of symptoms associated with PTSD:
- Intrusive memories: This includes flashbacks of the traumatic event, recurrent and distressing memories of the event, severe emotional or physical reactions to things that remind you of the event, and upsetting dreams about the event.
- Changes in mood and thinking: This could include negative feelings about yourself or others, feeling numb emotionally, difficulties with maintaining close relationships, lack of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, an inability to experience positive emotions, feeling hopeless about the future, and problems with memory.
- Avoidance: This would include avoiding places, people, or activities that might remind you of the traumatic event or trying to avoid thinking or talking about the event entirely.
- Changes in emotional reactions: This is also referred to as “arousal symptoms.” Emotional reactions could include trouble concentrating, being easily startled, irritability, angry outbursts, aggressiveness, overwhelming shame or guilt, trouble sleeping, self-destructive behavior, and always being on guard for potential danger.
The symptoms of PTSD can vary in intensity over time and can be randomly triggered by different situations. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms for more than a month, you should speak with a mental health professional to receive treatment as soon as possible and prevent your symptoms from getting any worse. If you begin to have suicidal thoughts, you should immediately seek help from friends, relatives, spiritual leaders, mental health providers, or a suicide hotline.
PTSD can be caused by going through, seeing, or even learning about a serious event that involves things such as near-death experiences, sexual violation, or serious injury. Although these events are what lead to the development of PTSD, this does not mean that everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are certain factors that will increase your risk of developing PTSD, including:
- Inherited mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
- Inherited aspects of your personality or temperament
- The specific way your brain regulates hormones and chemicals in response to stressful situations
- Life experiences, including any trauma you might have experienced as a child
Once diagnosed, the primary treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy, often combined with medication. Psychotherapy can involve cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, or EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). These methods will help you gain control over your fear of a remembered traumatic event.
Medications used to treat PTSD will depend on your specific symptoms. They might include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or medications that help you sleep such as prazosin.