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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 or rape or who have been threatened with deaath, sexual violence or serious injury.

PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II, but PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and at any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. Three ethnic minorities--U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians--are disproportunately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites. 

See more on symptoms, & treatment

  • Nov 22, 2021
Talking about Veteran’s Mental Health

The questions and answers below are some adapted from a recent Twitter chat APA hosted on veteran’s mental health. APA member Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M.D., chair of psychiatry at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and former army psychiatrist provided comments for APA. Dr. Ritchie retired from the Army in 2010, after holding numerous leadership positions within Army Medicine.

  • Nov 15, 2021
How Historical Trauma Impacts Native Americans Today

November is Native American Heritage Month and one issue impacting many Native American  is the historical trauma associated with  American Indian boarding schools operated by the U.S. government. As many as 100 American Indian residential schools operated in the U.S. from the mid-1800s until the 1960s. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, noted in a memo earlier this year that the purpose of these boarding schools “was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities where their American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian identities, languages, and beliefs were to be forcibly suppressed.”

  • Jun 21, 2021
Expanding Mental Health Uses for Virtual Reality

Virtual reality technology is increasingly being used to support mental health and treat a variety of mental health disorders, especially as the technology becomes more familiar and more affordable. Virtual reality (VR) offers several advantages, including convenience and the ability to adapt and individualize it. Among the conditions being effectively treated with VR are PTSD, anxiety and phobias.

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. During the COVID-19 pandemic the perception of the lethal threat of the virus has been associated with stress and trauma-related somatic symptoms.

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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 develop PTSD. People who had adverse childhood experiences, especially exposure to traumatic events, are more susceptible, as are people with 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 may 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

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About the Expert:

Spencer Eth, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry, University Miami School of Medicine
Chief of Mentqal Health Service Miami VA Healthcare System

Editor's Choice

NOV 12, 2021
Veterans explore ‘outdoor therapy’ to treat PTSD
KXAN

Rojas is one of many veterans experiencing outdoor or wilderness therapy, a tool for treating symptoms of PTSD backed by decades of research. Jammie Schmunk, a certified forest therapist, based in Conroe, works with clients who have suffered traumatic events or struggle with addiction. She said it sounds simple, but there is a reason it works. “When we slow the body down, the nervous system slows down,” Schmunk said. “The intended effect of that is just to be practice being present in your body and not in your head so much.”

NOV 12, 2021
Veteran-owned nonprofit combats PTSD with VR technology
Daily Herald

In a partnership with 2B3D, a virtual reality technology company, the Forge Forward Project is developing VRx — virtual reality technology that would give veterans a way to access mental health resources and the ability to connect with friends and family from anywhere in the world. “VRx is a place where veterans can find peace through gaming, through being social, at any time you could connect with a brother or sister that wore the uniform with you and they understand what you’re going through,” said Bric Simpson, founder and CEO of the Forge Forward Project. “But also … it’s an opportunity to be able to provide crisis management counseling, and eventually, therapy through this medium of virtual reality.”

 NOV 11, 2021
How service dogs are helping veterans cope with PTSD
Today

As the nation pauses on Veteran’s Day to thank those who have served this country for their sacrifice and dedication, our special series Those Who Serve continues. NBC’s Kerry Sanders joins TODAY from Lake Worth, Florida to highlight Ryan Onda and Semper-Fi Service Dogs, a remarkable group training dogs to help veterans cope with mental health challenges.

Resources

Additional Resources and Support

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)

Physician Reviewed

Felix Torres, MD, MBA, DFAPA
August 2020