Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you.  During this type of event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger.  You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.

Events can include:

  • Combat or military exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, such as a car wreck
  • Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake

After the event, you may feel scared, confused, or angry. If these feelings don’t go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD.  These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities.

4 types ofsymptoms:

  • Reliving the event (re-experiencing symptoms)
    Bad memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time.  You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place.  You may have nightmares. You even may feel like you’regoing through the event again.  This is called a  flashback.  Sometimes there is a trigger:  a sound or sight that causes you to relive the event.
  • Avoidance
    You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event.  You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
  • Numbing
    You may find it hard to express your feelings.  This is another way to avoid memories.  You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.  You may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy.  You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
  • Feeling keyed up
    You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger.  This is known as hyperarousal.  It can cause you to:
    • Suddenly become angry or irritable
    • Have a hard time sleeping
    • Have trouble concentrating
    • Fear for your safety and always feel on guard
    • Be very startled when someone surprises you

Other problems that may arise:

  • Drinking or drug problems
  • Feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair
  • Employment problems
  • Relationships problems including divorce and violence
  • Physical symptoms


When you have PTSD, dealing with the past can be hard.  Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your feelings bottled up.  But treatment can help you get better.

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Group Therapy
Brief Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
Family Therapy

Experiencing a traumatic event is not rare.  Going through a traumatic event doesn’t mean you will get PTSD.  About 8% of men and 20% of women develop PTSD. You are more likely to develop PTSD if you:

Were directly exposed to the traumatic event as a victim or a witness
Were seriously injured during the event
Went through a trauma that was long lasting or very severe
Believed that you were in danger
Believed that a family member was in danger
Had a severe reaction during the event such as crying, shaking, vomiting, or feeling apart from your surroundings
Felt helpless during the trauma and were not able to help yourself or a loved one.
Had an earlier life-threatening event or trauma, such as being abused as a child
Have another mental health problem
Have family members who have had mental health problems
Have little support from family and friends
Have recently lost a loved one, especially if it was unexpected
Have had recent, stressful life changes
Drink a lot of alcohol
Are a woman
Are poorly educated
Are younger

Your culture or ethnic group also may affect how you react to PTSD.  People from groups that are open and willing to talk about problems may be more willing to seek help.

PTSD and the Military

PTSD occurs:

  • In about 30% of Vietnam Veterans, or about 30 out of 100 Vietnam veterans.
  • In as many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, or in 10 veterans out of 100.9
  • In about 6% to 11% of veterans of the Afghanistan war (Enduring Freedom), or in 6 to 11 veterans out of 100
  • In about 12% to 20% of veterans of the Iraq war (Iraqi Freedom), or in 12 to 20 veterans out of 100
  • Factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation.  These include what you do in the war, the politics around the war, where its fought and the type of enemy you face
  • Military sexual trauma (MST) this is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military.  MST can happen to men and women and can occur during peacetime, training or war.
  • 23 out of 100 women (23%) reported sexual assault when in the military
  • 55 out of 100 women (55%) and 38 out of 100 men (38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military
  • Over half of all veterans with military sexual trauma (MST) are men