Jun 13th, 2023

Did you know there are currently about 12 million people in the United States living with PTSD? Sadly, most people don't get the help they need, despite effective treatments being accessible.

To support PTSD Awareness Month, let's dive into better understanding this mental health disorder and how to get help if you suspect it impacts you.

What It Is

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that develops when people have experienced a shocking, scary, dangerous, or otherwise life-threatening event.

If it's been longer than a few months and thoughts and feelings from the trauma are upsetting you or causing problems in your life, you may have PTSD.

"When you have PTSD, the world feels unsafe. You may have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping. You may also try to avoid things that remind you of your trauma—even things you used to enjoy."

Who Gets It

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. Personal factors—like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender—can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

What It Feels Like

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.

There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms to know about, though they may not be exactly the same for everyone.

  1. Reliving. Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time and can manifest through: nightmares, feeling like you're reliving the event, or sensing (seeing, hearing, smelling) something that triggers reliving the event.
  2. Avoiding. To avoid situations or people that remind you of the trauma event, you may engage in: not talking, avoiding crowds (if it feels dangerous), avoiding driving (if relevant to the traumatic event), or keeping busy to avoid getting help.
  3. Negative Thoughts. The way you think about yourself and others may become more negative after the trauma. This includes feeling numb, forgetting parts of the event, or feeling guilt or shame about the event.
  4. Hyperarousal. You may be jittery, on edge, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable too. For example, you may: have difficulty sleeping, struggle with concentrating, be more easily startled by loud or surprise noises, or engage in unhealthy habits such as smoking, or substance/drug abuse.
What About Children?

Some examples of PTSD symptoms in children and teens include:

  • Children under 6 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or act out the trauma in their play.
  • Children ages 7 to 11 may also act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with schoolwork or friends.
  • Children age 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behavior like substance abuse or running away.

As children get older, their symptoms are more like those of adults. To learn more, visit PTSD in Children and Teens.

How To Get Help

Both trauma-focused psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling or talk therapy) and medication are proven to treat PTSD. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.

"Even though PTSD treatments are effective and accessible, most people don't get the help they need. Everyone with PTSD—whether they are a Veteran or civilian survivor of sexual assault, serious accident, natural disaster, or other traumatic event—needs to know that treatments work and can lead to a better quality of life."

"Getting better" means different things for different people. Your symptoms don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships. If your symptoms last longer than a few months, are very upsetting, or disrupt your daily life, talk to a doctor or mental health provider immediately (psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker).

Trauma-focused psychotherapy are the most highly recommended treatment for PTSD. It involves treatment that focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. The most effective types of trauma-focused psychotherapy are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Certain medications can be effective for treating PTSD symptoms as well. Some specific SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) – including sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine – are used for depression and PTSD.

PTSD Treatment Decision Aid is a tool that helps find the treatment that is best for you.

If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org. In life-threatening situations, call 911.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about six out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives (NIMH). Please help spread awareness about this significant mental health disorder and learn about how to get help if you or someone you love display symptoms.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), US Department of Veterans Affairs