Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Facts About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic events—such as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disaster—can have lasting effects on a person’s mental health. While many people will have short term responses to life-threatening events, some will develop longer term symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms often co-exist with other conditions such as substance use disorders, depression and anxiety. A comprehensive medical evaluation resulting in an individualized treatment plan is optimal.

PTSD affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population—about 9 million individuals. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. Women are significantly more likely to experience PTSD than men.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months after experiencing or being exposed to a traumatic event. Occasionally, symptoms may emerge years afterward. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last more than one month. Symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse often accompany PTSD. Common symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
  • Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
  • Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is “not real” (derealization).
  • Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by stimuli that resembles the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.

Treatment and Support for Those with PTSD and Their Families

Treatments include psychotherapy, such as cognitive processing therapy or group therapy; medications; self-management strategies, such as self-soothing and mindfulness; the use of service animals, especially dogs.

We also recommend our NAMI support groups and classes for those living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and loved ones; find a local support group run by a California affiliate.

Find out more on NAMI National’s website.

Community Voices

Stories and posts about living with or being impacted by PTSD coming soon. Telling personal stories of recovery can be one of the most effective ways to diminish stigma and help individuals and families who are facing challenges related to mental health conditions. Submit your story for consideration.