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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

If you need to talk with a counselor now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour line available to anyone in emotional distress.

Everyone knows the term “PTSD,” yet few people know exactly what post-traumatic stress disorder means.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a shocking or dangerous event. It can affect both those who experience the event and those who witness the event.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD may be the result of a single event or series of events. Most commonly those events include:

  • Accidents
  • Combat
  • Violent personal assaults
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Disasters (ice storms, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings)

Any event marked by helplessness, horror, serious injury or death can cause PTSD. So can any event where a person experiences a profound fear of serious injury or death, even if neither occurs.

Who is affected by PTSD?

While most people think of PTSD as something that affects military veterans, the condition can affect anyone who is exposed to traumatic events. About half of all adults in America will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, and most will not develop PTSD.

7.7 million adults in the U.S. suffer from PTSD

You may be more likely to experience PTSD if you have inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression, or if you’ve experienced multiple traumatic events in your life. Serving in the military also makes you more likely to suffer from PTSD, and some veterans are more likely to be affected by PTSD than others. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), PTSD affects up to:

  • 12% of Gulf War veterans
  • 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans
  • 30% of Vietnam War veterans

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD are wide-ranging and can include:

  • Flashbacks, nightmares or sleeping problems
  • Severe anxiety, depression or grief
  • Detached or numb feeling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Being constantly “on edge” or easily startled
  • Self-destructive behavior (drinking too much, driving too fast)
  • Outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Thinking too much about the event or being unable to remember parts of the event
  • Avoidance of thinking or talking about the event or interacting with anything related to it
  • Withdrawal from daily life

Can kids experience PTSD?

Yes. Children of any age may experience the symptoms above, or they may reenact the traumatic event through play. 

When do you need to seek treatment for PTSD?

It’s common for people to have difficulty coping with a traumatic event, so give it time and practice self care. You should talk to your doctor if the symptoms:

  1. Get worse
  2. Last for more than a month, or
  3. Interfere with your daily life.

How do you help someone in your life who may be suffering from PTSD?

When someone has PTSD, their behavior may become hard to predict, understand or handle. The VA offers information on how to help your loved one, and how to take care of yourself in the process.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As Content Producer/Writer at bohan Advertising, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

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