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Help With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as
a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

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PTSD: Recognizing The Symptoms and Exercising as Part of Your Treatment

More than half of adults are at risk of being exposed to a traumatic event, such as a life-threatening accident, physical assault, a natural disaster, abuse, or combat, during their lifetime. Of people exposed to a traumatic event, about 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women end up getting posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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This Halloween, Stigma Shouldn’t Be in Fashion

Stigma is a barrier to care for people with mental illness; more than one in four people cite stigma as a reason that they do not seek care. Being mindful about the way that we portray mental illness is important to help reduce stigma.

Upcoming Events
International Society for Trauma Stress Studies
  • Thur,  Nov  05 - Sat,  Nov  07
Mental Health Month
  • Sun,  May  01 - Tue,  Oct  13
PTSD Awareness Month
  • Wed,  Jun  01 - Thur,  Jun  30

Are there physical problems that are commonly associated with PTSD?

In addition to the thoughts and feelings identified in the What is PTSD? section, people with PTSD may also experience physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, nausea, joint pain, headaches, back pain or other types of pain. The person in pain may not realize the connection between their pain and a traumatic event. For people with chronic pain, the pain may actually serve as a reminder of the traumatic event, which in turn may intensify PTSD symptoms. Some people who develop PTSD and chronic pain also experience depression and alcohol and prescription medication misuse. Chronic PTSD has been shown to increase the risk of having a variety of health issues and decreased life expectancy. More

My spouse has just been diagnosed with PTSD, how can I best help?

A person contending with exposure to a traumatic event may feel helpless, prompting a concerned spouse to want to take action to help. Perhaps the most powerful approach is to just be there for the person, show acceptance and concern, and listen without being judgmental or giving advice. Allow your spouse to talk about the trauma only if he or she would like to and encourage additional support from family, friends and faith and community resources. Encouraging healthy living, such as attention to diet, exercise and refraining from smoking and excessive use of alcohol, is important. It would also be a good time to plan relaxing enjoyable leisure time activities.

Take some time to educate yourself about trauma, PTSD and recovery and healing. Learning about what your spouse may be going through will help you and your family to understand better and be more supportive. Remember to take care of your own physical and mental health as well. More

Why do some people get PTSD after a traumatic event and others don't?

Studies have found that in fact most people recover and do not develop PTSD after exposure to a major traumatic event. However some people find themselves feeling worse as time passes and experience the symptoms of PTSD. Several factors before and after a traumatic event seem to increase the likelihood of PTSD. For example, the risk is greater when the traumatic event is more severe, violent, occurs over a longer period of time or involves harm to oneself or loss of a loved one. Being around reminders of the traumatic event can also increase the risk. In general women are more likely than men and younger people more likely than older to experience PTSD. People who had early childhood emotional problems, especially exposure to traumatic events, are more susceptible, as are people who suffer from chronic medical or psychiatric illness. More

What's the difference between a normal reaction to a traumatic event and PTSD?

People react to experience of trauma in a variety of ways, such as sadness, irritability and confusion. In the immediate aftermath of a major traumatic event most people complain of stress, difficulty concentrating, sleeping or getting along with others. With PTSD, the troubling symptoms worsen, affect social and work functioning, and persist longer than a month. If you or a loved one are struggling to cope with the effects of a trauma it would be useful to seek professional help. More

How can I find out more about different types of therapies and treatments for PTSD?

Several effective treatment options are available including psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR); and medications, such as the antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Often the combination of medication and psychotherapy is more effective than either form of treatment alone.

A good overview of effective treatment options for PTSD is available from the National Center for PTSD in the publication “Understanding PTSD Treatment.” Specific treatment guidelines are available from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Information on treatment for children is available from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Self-help tools, including PTSD Coach Online and PTSD Coach app, are available from the National Center for PTSD. These offer support for coping with sadness, anxiety and other symptoms that people who have been through trauma can develop. They can help you relax when you feel stressed, improve your mood, learn how to tackle difficult problems and help change thinking patterns. More

About the Expert:

Spencer Eth, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry, University Miami School of Medicine
Psychiatrist with Miami VA Healthcare System

More stories

Jared’s Story


Jared was a 36-year old married veteran who had returned from Afghanistan, where he had served as an officer. He went to the Veterans Affairs outpatient mental health clinic complaining of having “a short fuse” and being “easily triggered.”

Jared's symptoms involved out-of-control rage when startled, constant thoughts and memories of death-related events, weekly vivid nightmares of combat that caused trouble sleeping, anxiety and a loss of interest in hobbies he once enjoyed with friends. More

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APA Resources

Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5

Understanding Mental Disorders is a consumer guide designed to promote education and understanding among anyone who has been touched by mental illness.

Editor's Choice
  • Oct 20, 2015

PTSD: It's Not Just for Veterans
Huffington Post

When Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is in the news, it is mostly because of the number of veterans suffering as a result of combat-related trauma. Victims of other kinds of trauma can also suffer from PTSD, though, and often do without realizing it. More

  • Oct 18, 2015

Martial arts project helps veterans with PTSD
WPXI Pittsburgh

Madden takes the classes for free as part of Project Takedown, a new initiative that helps veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. More

  • Oct 15, 2015

Student Whose Army Dad Has PTSD Creates App to Help Vets Sleep

A college student whose soldier dad was having trouble sleeping after experiencing combat and his friends are helping veterans with a new app that tracks sleep and helps with night terrors. More


National Center for PTSD

Make the Connections (Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

Mental Health American (MHA)

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH)

Wounded Warrior Project

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

PTSD Alliance

Physician Review By:

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
July 2015