Understanding PTSD

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Jun. 01, 2019

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect more than military veterans. It can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, such as mass violence, a disaster, the unexpected death of a loved one, or physical abuse.

PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event that a person experienced or witnessed. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Symptoms usually begin within a few months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes begin years later.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an adult must have all of the following for at least one month to be diagnosed with PTSD:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom. These include flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts.
  • At least one avoidance symptom. These include staying away from things that are reminders of the traumatic experience, or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms. These include being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge,” having difficulty sleeping, or having angry outbursts.
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms. These include trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, or loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that young children can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those seen in adults.

According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately seven out of every 100 Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and genes may make some people more likely to develop the disorder than others.
Primary treatments for people with PTSD are medications (antidepressants), one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or both. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that PTSD affects people differently. So, a treatment that works for one person may not work for another.

The number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era. The National Center for PTSD contends that as much as 20 percent of Veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD in a given year. Similarly, about 12 percent of Veterans from the Gulf War have PTSD in a given year. Approximately 30 percent of Vietnam War Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Contact a healthcare provider if you or someone you know has symptoms of PTSD.

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