What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? / What is Trauma?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a very stressful, frightening or distressing event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they often get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult. These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories. Specific symptoms can vary in severity.
- Memories – Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
- Avoidance – Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
- Negative Thoughts and Feelings – This may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.
- Changes in Mood – Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.
Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms like those described above in the days following the event. For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms last for more than a month and often persist for months and sometimes years. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms may appear later, even years later. For people with PTSD, the symptoms cause significant distress or problems functioning. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.
Causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Any situation that a person finds traumatic can cause PTSD.
These can include:
- Serious road accidents
- Violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- Serious health problems
- Childbirth experiences
- Adverse childhood experiences
- Experience of combat
Intensity of symptoms
PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have more PTSD symptoms when you’re stressed in general, or when you come across reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences. Or you may see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.
When to see a doctor
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
If you have suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know, you could:
- Call a GP – ask for an emergency appointment
- Call 111 out of hours – they will help you find the support and help you need
- Contact your mental health crisis team – if you have one
I am a specialist in treating PTSD. The most common approaches I would use to treat PTSD would be EMDR, Trauma Focused CBT, or Compassion Focused CBT. The approach used will depend on a thorough assessment and will be decided jointly between us. Further information on all these therapies can be found under the Therapies tab at the top of the page.
Please find below a helpful link for further information on PTSD from MIND.