Learn about PTSD
Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that develops after a person has experienced one or more traumatic events.
There is no comprehensive list of every type of event that can prompt a person to experience PTSD. In general, a traumatic event is one that causes an individual to feel that they are in grave danger of serious injury, sexual assault, or death. Examples of traumatic incidents that may precede the onset of PTSD include physical abuse, extreme neglect, sexual assault, military combat, severe automobile accidents, hurricanes or tornadoes, acts of terrorism, and serious illnesses.
Some people develop PTSD after experiencing one traumatic event. Others don’t experience signs, symptoms, or effects of PTSD until after they’ve been exposed to multiple traumatic events.
A person can begin to experience the signs and symptoms of PTSD after being directly involved in a traumatic event, witnessing a traumatic event that occurs to someone else, or even learning the details of a loved one’s traumatic experience.
In all such cases, it is both normal and understandable to react to trauma with temporary fear, sadness, or similar emotions. However, if these reactions persist long after the event has passed, if they prompt you to engage in certain self-defeating behaviors, or if they become so severe that they impair your ability to get through the day, you may have developed PTSD.
If you or someone you care about has PTSD, please know that you are not alone. With the right type and level of care, you can learn to manage your symptoms, regain control of your thoughts and actions, and resume a much healthier lifestyle. With proper professional assistance, you can recover from PTSD.
Signs and symptoms of PTSD
Every person’s experience with posttraumatic stress disorder can vary depending upon a host of personal factors. In general, though, the following lists include several of the more common signs and symptoms of PTSD:
- Exaggerated startle response
- Being easily frightened
- Altering your behavior patterns to avoid people, places, or events that may remind you of the traumatic occurrence
- Acting in an uncharacteristically aggressive, reckless, or dangerous manner
- Abusing alcohol or other drugs
- Reducing or ending your participation in activities that were once of great significance to you
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Pervasive fatigue
- Diminished energy
- Pain in head and stomach
- Chest tightness
- Persistent muscle tension or cramping
- Continual state of hyperarousal
- Shame and guilt
- Drastic mood swings
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Recurrent, intrusive, and distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Persistent sense of danger or dread
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Outbursts of unexplained or unjustified anger
- Depersonalization (feeling as though you have become detached from your body)
- Derealization (feeling like the world around you is not real)
Effects of PTSD
Short-Term Effects: If you fail to receive necessary treatment for PTSD, you may increase your risk for several short- and long-term effects. The short-term effects of PTSD that are listed below include outcomes that are more likely to occur earlier in your experience with PTSD. Describing these outcomes as “short-term effects of PTSD” is not meant to minimize their severity. Any effect of PTSD is cause for concern and should prompt you to seek effective professional care.
Common short-term effects of PTSD include the following:
- Strained relationships with friends or family members
- Setbacks at work or in school
- Injuries due to reckless behaviors or subpar self-care
- Arrest and other legal problems due to reckless or impulsive behaviors
- Substance abuse
- Onset of symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders
- Diminished self-confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Poor self-image
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
Again, please do not think that short-term effects of PTSD are superficial or temporary. Anyone whose life is impacted by any short-term effects of PTSD should seek appropriate professional care. When you get the right type and level of help, you can learn to manage your symptoms, overcome the effects of PTSD, and live a much healthier life.
Long-Term Effects: Continuing to live with untreated posttraumatic stress disorder can put you at increased risk for long-term effects of PTSD. Please note that this is not a predictable disorder. There is no set pattern or progression for the long-term effects of PTSD. Anyone who experiences any short- or long-term effects of PTSD should seek professional care as soon as possible.
The following are among the many potential long-term effects of PTSD:
- Destroyed relationships
- Academic failure and expulsion
- Chronic unemployment
- Financial devastation
- Worsening symptoms of other mental health challenges
- Worsening physical health problems due to reckless behaviors and poor self-care
- Incarceration due to reckless or impulsive behaviors
- Chemical dependency
- Pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
As with the short-term effects in the previous section, the long-term effects of PTSD can have a detrimental impact on your physical, psychological, and socioeconomic well-being. Without proper care, the long-term effects of PTSD can be devastating. Yet no matter what you’ve already experienced, effective professional care can put you on the path toward improved health and sustained wellness.
PTSD and co-occurring disorders
People who develop PTSD may also be at increased risk for several other mental health disorders. In clinical terms, the simultaneous presence of multiple disorders is often referred to as co-occurring disorders. Depending upon which co-occurring disorders a person experiences, they can have a profound negative impact on a person’s health and can complicate the effort to get proper care.
Examples of co-occurring disorders that have been associated with PTSD include the following:
- Substance use disorders (this is the clinical term for addiction)
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
The cause-effect relationship between PTSD and co-occurring disorders can vary significantly. Some people first begin to struggle with the signs, symptoms, and effects of PTSD, then develop symptoms of a co-occurring disorder. Others experience one of the disorders listed above first, then develop PTSD in the aftermath of a traumatic occurrence. Of course, still others deal with the signs, symptoms, and effects of PTSD without ever experiencing a co-occurring disorder.
When you’re seeking proper care for PTSD, it’s important to choose a provider who can identify and, if necessary, treat any co-occurring disorders. Receiving comprehensive care that addresses PTSD and co-occurring disorders can significantly increase the likelihood of successful long-term recovery.