What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric illness that some people develop following a traumatic event. Flashbacks, anger, avoidance, and intrusive thoughts commonly characterize the disorder. Although many people associate PTSD with combat veterans, anyone who has experienced trauma can develop the disorder.

An estimated 7.7 million American adults live with PTSD today. Children can also develop these symptoms. While PTSD can occur without any other mental illnesses, people with the disorder often also experience depression, anxiety, or substance addiction. Recent studies have linked traumatic brain injuries in veterans to PTSD as well.

Some people with PTSD may believe that their symptoms are permanent because of their trauma. However, there is hope. While professionals cannot take away the pain of what happened, they can make it easier to live with and help patients reduce their symptoms.

Types of PTSD

The mental health community categorizes PTSD into four distinct types, each with its own characteristics and sets of symptoms:

  • Avoidance: Patients avoid processing the feelings about the events or anything that could remind them of what happened
  • Intrusive memories: Patients experience flashbacks, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts about the events.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions: Patients present with arousal symptoms, such as always being on guard or being easily startled.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Patients have persistent negative thoughts about themselves or the world in general. May also include problems with memory and relationships.

People with PTSD can have symptoms from one or more of these types. Different triggers tend to cause different types of PTSD.

PTSD Triggers

Many people associate PTSD with war, understandably. Veterans experience high rates of the disorder because they see violence regularly. However, other traumatic events can trigger PTSD as well, such as being the victim of or witnessing:

  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Robbery
  • Car accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Terror attacks
  • Shootings
  • Domestic violence
  • Bombings
  • Mugging
  • Plane wrecks
  • Train derailments
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Violence or gore of any other kind

It’s essential for people with PTSD to avoid comparing their trauma to someone else’s. If an event causes PTSD, it is “bad enough” to warrant treatment. Comparisons only hurt people when they need help.

PTSD Symptoms

People go through PTSD differently depending on what caused the symptoms, their life experiences before the event, and their demographics. Even two people who went through trauma together can experience different signs in the aftermath.

For example, consider two veterans who served side-by-side. One may develop PTSD while the other does not. On the other hand, they could both develop the disorder and present with different symptoms.

Although no two cases are alike, counselors do notice some patterns in the ways PTSD affects women, men, and veterans.

PTSD Symptoms in Women

Women are two to three times more likely to develop PTSD in their lives. Women with PTSD are more likely to experience these symptoms than their male counterparts:

  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Depression
  • Startling easily
  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance

Women also tend to go longer without treatment than men. On average, women have symptoms for four years before they get professional help. Women may also seek help less often because of the nature of the triggers they tend to experience.

PTSD Symptoms in Men

While men with PTSD can present with any of the symptoms in the DSM-5, they are more likely than women with PTSD to have these signs:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Irritability
  • Impulsive behavior

Men tend to seek treatment about one year after symptoms begin. Although this is a shorter time frame than women with the disorder, all people who show signs about three months after a traumatic event should seek treatment as soon as possible.

Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans

Veterans of war often develop PTSD because of the violence they witness while deployed. Even before the mental health community had a proper term for PTSD, people called veterans with the symptoms “shell shocked” or “battle fatigued.” Veterans can experience any of the symptoms of the disorder, particularly:

  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling on-guard all of the time
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Startled by loud sounds
  • Irritable or angry
  • Emotionally numb or detached

Types of PTSD Treatment

The extreme nature of the trauma and the pervasive symptoms can make people with PTSD feel hopeless. However, professional counselors and psychiatrists can help. PTSD treatment may include different types of medications and therapies. What works for one patient may not be quite right for another, but OBH can help each person find the right combination.

Join PTSD Support Groups

PTSD can make patients feel alone in their pain. Furthermore, the symptoms only cause people to isolate themselves further. PTSD support groups ease those feelings and help patients know that they are not alone. By sharing their stories with others, they process some of their feelings. They can also listen to others and know that recovery is possible.

Try Individual PTSD Counseling

Experienced psychologists can help patients with PTSD process their feelings. The exact type of counseling that professionals choose varies depending on the types of PTSD patients have. Therapists may use methods such as:

Therapist-Led Trauma Group Therapy

Therapist-led trauma groups combine the benefits of support groups and individual therapy. Participants learn from both the therapists and one another. Therapists ensure that everyone in the group remains safe and progresses in their recoveries. They also teach the participants healthy coping skills. Participants also encourage one another and share their stories.