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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

  • Jun 10, 2020
The Impact of Trauma – Even from a Distance

In recent weeks, many Americans have been repeatedly exposed to images and videos on social media and the news of disturbing violent scenes, such as the death of George Floyd.  It is widely known that direct exposure to traumatic events can lead to mental health impacts such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet even without direct exposure, indirect and repeated exposure to videos of violent racist attacks can also have harmful effects on mental health.

  • May 28, 2020
Exploring the Potential to Eliminate Traumatic Memories

Erasing or manipulating memories sounds like science fiction,  but researchers are moving closer to the ability to target and erase traumatic memories. New advances in the neurobiology of fear memory are leading to potential new approaches to PTSD treatment, including the erasure of traumatic memories.

  • May 15, 2020
Building Resilience at Any Age

Resilience is the ability to adapt well to stress, trauma, tragedy or threats; to bounce back from difficult experiences and to overcome adversity. Resilience is a complex and active process, influenced by both genetics and environment with the potential to change over time. It is also clearly a useful and desirable quality as people across the globe cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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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

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.

Read More

Editor's Choice

OCT 9, 2020

The case for funding psychedelics to treat mental health
Vox

Scientists are developing psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, into a treatment for depression. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is being investigated as a potential treatment for depression. Over the past decade, a few studies have investigated the effectiveness of psilocybin for treating depression and end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients and found that the psychedelic had a surprisingly large effect.

 OCT 1, 2020

Machine Learning Can Streamline PTSD Diagnosis in Veterans

HealthIT Analytics

Machine learning could help providers diagnose PTSD more efficiently, both in veterans and the general population. Using machine learning, researchers were able to cut six of the 20 questions used to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while still maintaining accuracy in a veteran population, according to a study published in Assessment. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, PTSD symptoms are also increasing among the general population, the team noted. However, diagnosing PTSD is time-consuming – the process typically takes 30 minutes or more, which is too long for most clinical visits.

SEPT 21, 2020

Here’s How the Pandemic Is Affecting PTSD Rates
Wall Street Journal

Health-care workers and 18-to-30 year-olds are among those suffering, but new treatments offer hope. Posttraumatic stress disorder rates are elevated among young people and health-care workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, some studies have found. Psychologists and psychiatrists are bracing for rising rates of the disorder, which is characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of situations that remind the person of the trauma and other lasting symptoms that impair functioning.

Resources

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