Written by Shannon,
7 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Erin O'Callaghan, PHD
Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder, more specifically an anxiety disorder, that can occur in people who have recently been through or witnessed a traumatic event. Natural disasters, car accidents, sexual assault, or being threatened with serious injury are all examples of events that have the potential to cause PTSD, thought the list of causes is not exclusive to these examples.
You can also experience PTSD if you learned that this traumatic event happened to a close family member or friend. First responders, and others who are exposed to witnessing repeated traumatic events (i.e., continued exposure to details of child abuse or witnessing medical trauma in a hospital) can also put you at risk for developing PTSD.
PTSD can cause a host of symptoms including intrusive and disturbing thoughts, feelings, and memories related to the traumatic event, and patients may even have flashbacks or nightmares about the event.
PTSD can cause feelings of sadness, fear, or anger, and they can lead you to feel detached or estranged from the people around you. Someone with PTSD may be driven to avoid any and all situations that remind them of their trauma, and they may also have very strong negative reactions to things like loud noises or accidental touches.
The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and in some cases, symptoms may be particularly severe. However, there are several treatment options when it comes to managing the symptoms of PTSD.
Building a more complete understanding of PTSD and what it can entail can help you realize that you or a loved one may be struggling with this disorder. If you believe you or someone close to you is dealing with PTSD, you should get in touch with a mental health professional who can help you through it.
In the meantime, here’s what you need to know.
Symptoms and Causes of PTSD
Any person who lives through or witnesses a traumatic event is at risk of developing PTSD, and some common traumas that have been linked to this disorder include the following:
- Accidents such as car or plane crashes
- Natural disasters like floods or earthquakes
- Acts of war or terrorism
- Violent crimes such as home invasions, kidnapping, or murder
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- House fires
- Exposure to violence at school or in one’s community
- Suicide of a close loved one
Not every single person who experiences or witnesses these events will end up with PTSD, and there are several risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD:
- How close a person was to the trauma itself
- How close a person is to the people who were involved
- The severity of the traumatic event
- How long the traumatic event lasted
- Whether the trauma has recurred
- The person’s coping skills
- The person’s mental health history
- How much support the impacted person is receiving at home, at school, and in their community
Being able to recognize and identify the symptoms of PTSD is another one of the most critical parts of coming to realize that you may be struggling with this disorder. The symptoms associated with PTSD typically start within one month following a traumatic event, but in some cases symptoms may not start for a year or years.
The symptoms of PTSD can lead to significant problems with work, school, and relationships, and they can also largely interfere with your ability to go about your daily life.
There are four main groups of PTSD symptoms:
- Intrusion: Symptoms of intrusion can include recurrent and unwanted distressing memories of the event, having flashbacks of the event, having nightmares or upsetting dreams about the event, or having severe physical or emotional reactions to things that remind you of the traumatic event.
- Avoidance: Symptoms of avoidance can include trying to avoid anything that reminds you of your trauma, including places, people, and activities.
- Negative changes in thinking and mood: Symptoms of these changes include negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world, feeling hopeless, having memory problems, having a hard time maintaining relationships with loved ones, and experiencing a lack of interest in things you once enjoyed.
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions: This type of symptom can include being easily startled, constantly being on guard for danger, self-destructive behavior like driving too fast, trouble sleeping or concentrating, irritability or anger outbursts, aggressive behavior, and overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.
Symptoms can vary in intensity from person to person as well as over time, and your symptoms may become more severe when you are under other forms of stress.
How PTSD is Diagnosed and Treated
A PTSD diagnosis is only considered if you have had the following cluster symptoms for over a month: recreating the traumatic event repeatedly, avoiding triggering people, places, and things, and being hypervigilant for danger.
These symptoms should also largely interfere with everyday life in order for a diagnosis to be made. It can often be difficult for a diagnosis to be made, especially if the affected individual is having a hard time realizing that they are having a problem, or if the individual believes they can manage their symptoms on their own.
PTSD can also be very isolating, which means a person who is suffering from this disorder may find it particularly difficult to reach out to someone to get help.
Additionally, if someone’s PTSD symptoms start at a delayed time from the trauma, they may not make the connection between the traumatic event and their symptoms.
The criteria for a PTSD diagnosis are based on the following:
- The traumatic event that the individual witnessed or experienced
- How the trauma is being re-experienced
- How the individual is coping with their traumatic memories
- If the individual has heightened arousal, anger, or is easily startled
- How long the individual has experienced their symptoms
There are a few different approaches to treatment methods for PTSD, but common methods of treatment are trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and medication.
If you believe you are struggling with PTSD, you can get help today with Brightside.
With personalized therapy, medication, or both, right from the comfort of your own home, Brightside’s experienced team of expert providers can help you figure out exactly what you need to start feeling a little like yourself again.
The Bottom Line
Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of several anxiety disorders. Its symptoms can vary in length and severity, but a diagnosis can only be made if the symptoms are experienced for longer than a month.
Symptoms of PTSD can start around a month or even a year following a traumatic event, and events that can lead to PTSD include car accidents, plane crashes, the death of a close loved one, threat of serious injury, and different forms of abuse.
Symptoms of PTSD can include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in one’s thinking and mood, and changes in one’s physical and emotional reactions, and a person with PTSD may have very strong negative reactions to things like loud noises, accidental touch, or other sudden movements or sounds.
If you think you may be struggling with PTSD but are not sure how to seek help, Brightside is here to bring you the care you need.