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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Information, Resources, and the PTSD Card

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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event, extremely stressful event, or a series of events that cause intense fear, particularly if feelings of helplessness accompany the fear. That event may be war, physical or sexual assault or abuse, an accident (such as an airplane crash or a severe motor vehicle accident), a mass disaster, or other threats to a person's life.

What Causes PTSD?

Researchers are not entirely sure what causes some people to develop PTSD, but many think it happens when confronted with a traumatic event. Their mind is not able to process all the thoughts and feelings as it typically does. Scientists studying the brain think there may be some differences in the brain structure or chemistry of those with PTSD. For example, certain areas of the brain involved with feeling fear may be hyperactive in people with PTSD.

You could develop PTSD if the event happened to you, or even if you witnessed it. It is normal to feel stress when you experience a traumatic event. What is not normal is for that stress and other symptoms to persist long after the event.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD usually develop within the first three months after the event but may not surface until months or even years later. Symptoms may include: 

  • Intrusive thoughts recalling the traumatic event
  • Nightmares, flashbacks or dreams related to the events
  • Efforts to avoid feelings and thoughts that either remind you of the traumatic event or that trigger similar feelings
  • Feeling detached or unable to connect with others
  • Depression, hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Headache
  • Disrupted sleep, insomnia
  • Hypervigilance (being overly aware of possible danger)
  • Hypersensitivity, including at least two of the following reactions:
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Being angry
    • Having difficulty concentrating
    • Startling easily
    • Having a physical reaction (rapid heart rate or breathing, increase in blood pressure)

Who is Most at Risk?

These factors increase the risk of being diagnosed with PTSD:

  • A highly traumatic event
  • Trauma that lasted for a long-time or is repeated
  • A history of sexual or physical abuse
  • Working in a high-risk occupation, such as military or law enforcement
  • A history of depression or other psychological disorder
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Not having adequate social support
  • Women are twice as likely as men to show signs of PTSD
  • Veterans of war
  • Survivors of unexpected events, such as car wrecks, fires, or terrorist attacks
  • Depression
  • Survivors of natural disasters

How Can You Decrease the Risk of Being Diagnosed with PTSD?

To decrease the risk of being diagnosed with PTSD, interventions should occur immediately after a traumatic event. These recommended interventions can include debriefing after the event, reaching out to a social support network, attending support groups, psychotherapy, and even taking medications to reduce symptoms.

What Can I Expect When Diagnosed with PTSD?

The effects of PTSD can be far-reaching. PTSD can be a debilitating disorder, and its symptoms can harm several different areas in a person's life. In particular, the disorder can negatively affect an individual's mental health, physical health, work, and relationships. Studies have found that people with PTSD are at a much higher risk for developing some other mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. In addition to these mental health problems, people with PTSD are also six times as likely as someone without PTSD to attempt suicide.

How Do I Get Help?

If you receive a PTSD diagnosis, it is essential to seek help. Not only can the symptoms of PTSD be challenging to cope with, but they can also have a significant negative impact on different areas of your life. Are you in crisis? If so, you have options:

Need help but not in crisis? You have options too:

Need further assistance?

Written in collaboration with:
Cara Loken, 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year

Dr. Ingrid Yee, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year