Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


woman sitting near window

PTSD is a disorder that some people develop after experiencing a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to respond to danger and help a person avoid danger in the future. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people will recover from those symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD and may still feel stressed or frightened even when they are no longer in danger.

What are examples of extreme stressors?

  • Serious accident or natural disaster
  • Rape or criminal assault
  • Combat exposure
  • Child sexual abuse or physical abuse or severe neglect
  • Hostage/imprisonment/torture/displacement as refugee
  • Witnessing a traumatic event
  • Sudden unexpected death of a loved one

Not every traumatized person develops PTSD and not everyone with PTSD has experienced a dangerous event. It is estimated that 5% of the population currently have PTSD and women are twice as likely to have PTSD as men. A person with PTSD may experience symptoms such as re-experiencing the traumatic event, finding ways to avoid thoughts, feelings, and reminders of the event, and an increased arousal or reactivity (for example: feeling "on edge," angry outburst, hypervigilance). Fortunately, effective treatments for PTSD are available. 

How is PTSD treated?

The main treatments for people with PTSD are medications, psychotherapy (“talk” therapy), or both. Everyone is different, and PTSD affects people differently so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. It is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD. Some people with PTSD need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms. If someone with PTSD is going through an ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both of the problems need to be addressed. Other ongoing problems can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal. The most studied medications for treating PTSD include antidepressants, which may help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. Antidepressants and other medications may be prescribed along with psychotherapy. 

Additional Resources

PTSD and Memory
Treatment of Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD): The Linen Cupboard Metaphor
The HPA Axis and Trauma
Fight or Flight Response
Managing a Crisis

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Please remember this information is intended for educational purposes only and should not substitute medical advice from a healthcare provider.