- Written by Brian Reese Brian Reese
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect any of us.
Recent statistics suggest that up to 70% of all adults in the U.S. — that’s 231 million Americans — have experienced a traumatic event that’s significant enough to cause PTSD or lead to the development of mental health symptoms.
While experiencing trauma doesn’t necessarily mean you have symptoms that warrant a PTSD diagnosis, you may benefit from getting help from your doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Several factors can increase the likelihood that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.
For example, while women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse, men are more likely to experience serious accidents, physical assault, combat, or disaster, or to witness death or injury. Children can develop PTSD, too.
What is PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a mental health condition that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, severe accident, terrorist act, war/combat, or rape, or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury.
Those with PTSD typically have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their traumatic experience that last long after the traumatic event itself. People living with PTSD may relive the traumatic event repeatedly via flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and detachment.
While a formal diagnosis of PTSD requires the person to have been exposed to a traumatic event, the exposure could be indirect rather than first-hand. For example, PTSD could occur in an individual learning about the violent death or suicide of a close family member or friend.
Common Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms can begin at any time after exposure to a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years afterward.
These symptoms can cause significant problems in your work, life, or social functioning. They can also interfere with your ability to accomplish routine tasks. In addition, the severity of your symptoms can vary from person to person over time.
The Mayo Clinic divides PTSD symptoms into four types:
1. Intrusive memories – These include: recurrent, unwanted, distressing memories of the traumatic event; reliving the event as if it were happening again (flashbacks); upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event; and/or severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event.
2. Avoidance – Symptoms may include trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event and avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of it.
3. Adverse changes in thinking and mood – These may include: negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world; hopelessness about the future; memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event; difficulty maintaining close relationships; feeling detached from family and friends; lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed (depression); difficulty experiencing positive emotions; and feeling emotionally numb.
4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions – Also called arousal symptoms, changes to these reactions could include: anxiety and depression; being easily startled or frightened; always being on guard for danger; self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast; trouble sleeping; trouble concentrating; irritability, angry outbursts, or other aggressive behavior; and overwhelming guilt or shame.
Living with PTSD
I suffer from PTSD, and for me, it negatively impacts every aspect of my life. I have trouble sleeping and suffer from daily battles with anxiety, depression, anger, and disturbing thoughts and memories about the trauma.
In addition, I live with emotional detachment; I can be in a room full of people and feel completely alone.
I generally don’t trust people; I’m most comfortable in the confines of my own home and typically go out of my way to avoid certain situations.
When to Seek Help
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional right away. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 to reach a trained counselor 24/7/365. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a pastor, spiritual leader, or someone in your faith community.
- Make an appointment with your primary care doctor or mental health professional.
Those with PTSD aren’t crazy or broken. It’s called life, and stuff happens. You matter — your life matters. The truth is we all have things going on in our lives that others know nothing about.
Getting help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. Mental health is health, and it must be prioritized in the same way we prioritize our physical and spiritual health.
I still take medications, go to therapy, and practice mindfulness. And it’s OK not to be OK.
Please look out for each other and ask the hard questions of those around you. Doing so might save someone’s life.
A leading expert on veteran benefits, Brian Reese is the author of You Deserve It and founder of VA Claims Insider (vaclaimsinsider.com). He’s a former active-duty Air Force officer and received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy and earned his MBA as a National Honor Scholar.