What is a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

What is a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (better known as PTSD) is a mental disorder which is precipitated by a distressing event. The victim either experiences the event or witnesses it firsthand.

It’s common for people who experience a traumatic event to then go through a short period of adjustment and coping. However, the majority of these people will come to get better with enough time.

People with PTSD, on the other hand, find it extremely difficult to overcome the event. It becomes so much of an issue, it interferes with their daily lives.

Often, military personnel and emergency responders will face PTSD due to the nature of their work. Still, it remains common for people not in these lines of work to also face this mental health condition. An event such as a car accident or witnessing the death of another could happen within any of our lives and trigger PTSD.

This article seeks to inform you of everything you need to know when it comes to PTSD. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD is a complex disorder which hosts a variety of different symptoms. These are grouped into four different types:

  • Avoidance
  • Changes in emotional and physical reaction
  • Intrusive memories
  • Negative changes in mood and thought

Not everyone experiences the same set of symptoms. Furthermore, people will find their symptoms are more intense at certain times rather than others.

It should be noted that children ages 6 and under may experience other symptoms. These include:

  • Re-enacting the distressing experience through play
  • Terrifying dreams of the distressing experience


Avoidance symptoms include:

  • Attempting to steer clear of conversations and thoughts about the distressing event.
  • Avoiding places, people, and/or activities that are a reminder of the distressing event.

Changes in Emotional and Physical Reaction

Also referred to as arousal symptoms, these changes in emotional and physical reaction include:

  • Aggressive behavior or angry outbursts
  • Becoming easily startled or frightened
  • Constantly being on guard for harm
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memory symptoms include:

  • Experiencing flashbacks of the event
  • Intense emotional anguish or physical reaction to something that brings up the memory of the distressing event
  • Reoccuring and undesired distressing memories of the event
  • Terrifying dreams or nightmares of the distressing event

Negative Changes in Mood and Thought

Negative changes in mood and thought symptoms include:

  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Difficulty keeping close relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling separated from family and friends
  • Feelings of hopelessness (especially about the future)
  • Lack of interest in activities and people the victim once hung around

Signs of PTSD

The intensity of the above symptoms varies from person to person. Some people will feel stronger symptoms when they’re feeling stress from another force, such as work or school.

If you recognized the above symptoms in a loved one, it’s important to seek out help. Unlike other mental health conditions, PTSD is triggered by an event. Therefore, it’s easier for a loved one to pinpoint whether a loved one or not is suffering from the illness.

If you suspect PTSD in a loved one or feel you have it yourself, it’s vital to see a doctor. Without reaching out to a medical professional, you risk making the symptoms more severe. A doctor will observe your condition and symptoms and give you the best possible choice for symptoms.

If you have suicidal thoughts it’s extremely important you get help immediately. Available resources include:

  • Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Contacting your spiritual leader or someone within your faith community.
  • Go to the emergency room or make an appointment with your doctor.
  • Reach out to a loved one or someone you trust.

What Causes PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder appears after a person experiences a traumatic event. The event which triggers the illness varies from person to person. It can involve a genuine or threatened death, severe injury, or a sexual violation.

As of this time, research isn’t conclusive as to why some people experience PTSD and others don’t. What we do know is PTSD is most likely caused by the following factors:

  • Brain and body functioning and structure.
  • Genetics of one’s personality and risk of mental health.
  • Stressful experiences.

Risks of PTSD

There is no select age group for people who are at risk of PTSD. It is a serious disease which can affect anyone at any given time. Often, the traumatic experience which triggers the illness comes at an unexpected time.

The risks involved in receiving PTSD are:

  • Experiencing distress at an early point in life (for example, child abuse).
  • Experiencing severe and/or long-lasting trauma.
  • Having a family history of mental health problems.
  • Having substance abuse problems.
  • Holding a job which raises the risk of becoming exposed to distressful events, such as military personnel and first responders.
  • Possessing other mental health complications.
  • Lack of a healthy family and friend support system.

There’s a set list of common events which lead to people developing PTSD:

  • An accident
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Childhood abuse
  • Combat subjection
  • Physical assault
  • Sexual abuse

The above events are common in a number of scenarios including a natural disaster or a life-threatening medical diagnosis. Since they appear at random, it’s important to be keen on mental development after an event takes place.

PTSD Treatment

There are two different ways to treat PTSD. If you go to a medical professional, you’ll be offered either medication or psychotherapy or both.

PTSD works differently within everyone. Therefore, there is no standard treatment path that’s right for every single case. If you run into a facility claiming “one size fits all”, we suggest you avoid at all costs!

It’s also important to note that there are incidents where people who suffer from PTSD have other complications going on in their life. This can include another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, or be a negative situation, such as going through an abusive relationship. If this is the case, then both cases need to be addressed at the same time.


The most common medication people who suffer from PTSD are antidepressants. The purpose of these medications is to control the following symptoms:

  • Anger
  • Feelings of numbness
  • Sadness
  • Worry

There are other medications which may be prescribed for specific symptoms. For example, Prazosin has been found helpful for people facing sleep problems, such as insomnia and nightmares. However, it’s unapproved by the FDA.

People with PTSD should work with their doctors in order to figure out which medications are best for them.

Still, it’s important to mention that some of these medications can be addictive and lead to substance abuse. In these cases, people end up developing symptoms that add further problems to their PTSD. Due to this, it may be in your best interest simply to look towards therapy.


Psychotherapy (often referred to as “talk therapy”) is a type of treatment found with many mental illnesses. You can expect to talk to a mental health professional and figure out the root of your disorder. Through this, the goal is to identify triggers and find ways of treating the symptoms that follow

There are a number of different psychotherapies which one can find themselves in. Some of these aim to aid people with their symptoms. Others look to find causes within social, family, or job-related complications.

It may be in your best interest to try a combination of therapies. Experiment around and see which ones work best for you.

The most common psychotherapy for PTSD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Common CBT’s include:

  • Cognitive Restructuring – The purpose of this therapy is to help people understand the memory their trauma stems from. There are sometimes cases where people with PTSD remember the trauma in a worse manner. The goal is for the person struggling with the bad memory to begin looking at it in a more realistic way.
  • Exposure Therapy – through this practice, you’ll be exposed to your fears and then learn how to control the anxiety that follows. This is all done in a safe manner and it can take a lot of time to become adjusted to this exposure. You may be asked to write, imagine, or visit the location where this happened.

What Can People Do Outside Treatment?

There’s no doubt many people with PTSD try to help themselves before seeking out help from a medical professional. Though it’s always suggested you go to receive proper treatment, there’s no harm in helping yourself in ways outside this treatment.

Some suggestions are:

  • Discuss with your doctor about treatment options.
  • Divide larger tasks into smaller ones to better handle them.
  • Don’t expect your symptoms to improve immediately. Give it time and be patient.
  • Exercise to help reduce stress.
  • Identify situations, people, and places where you feel most comfortable. Don’t be afraid to seek them out.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Spend time with people you trust and inform them about your triggers and symptoms.

If you need to talk to someone immediately, you can also check out the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Help for Mental Illnesses page.

Join a Study

There are a number of clinical studies out there which seek to find new ways in preventing, detecting, and treating mental health conditions. Some of these include new drugs, surgical procedures, and experimental therapy.

If you’d like to be apart of the future and help future generations handle mental illness, check out ClinicalTrials.gov and search for PTSD.

NOTE: Before deciding to join a study, it’s important to talk to your licensed health professional.

Your Questions

This article sought to inform you everything you need to know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Still have more questions?

Feel free to ask them in the comments below. If you have further information or advice to give to people with PTSD, we’d also love to hear from you. We reply to each comment in a timely and personal manner.


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