What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that happens after exposure to a real or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Whether you experienced the traumatic event directly, witnessed it in person, learned that the event happened to a close family member or friend, or you experienced repeated exposure to aversive traumatic events, you may develop PTSD.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD looks different in different people. Some may have intrusive, involuntary memories of the traumatic event. Others may have recurring nightmares related to the trauma. Some people experience flashbacks where they feel or act as if the event is still happening. In every case, PTSD is marked by intense psychological distress. The most common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reactions to anything that resembles some part of the event.
  • Avoiding distressing memories, thoughts or feelings
  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the event
  • Changes in mood including anger, guilt, shame, fear, or horror
  • Less interest in doing things you once enjoyed
  • Negative feelings about the world or yourself.
  • Feeling detached from other people
  • Inability to feel happiness, satisfaction, love, or other positive emotions
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Recklessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

You are NOT alone.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans who experience PTSD varies by the era in which they served. Between 11 and 20 percent of all veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in any given year. About 12 percent of veterans who served during Operation Desert Storm and about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have experienced PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Most experts believe that PTSD is under-reported due to the stigma associated with mental health problems.

Combat is not the only cause of PTSD for service members. While these stressful situations can contribute to mental health problems, military sexual trauma, harassment, or assault that occurs while in the service can also leave a lasting impact on service members. Among the veterans that use VA health care, 23 percent of women report sexual assault while they were in the military. 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men report sexual harassment at some point in their service.

PTSD Treatment

While most people experience PTSD after a traumatic event, some will get better on their own over time. Others will require treatment directed at reducing the symptoms of PTSD. After a physical exam and a psychological exam, you will learn skills to address your symptoms, help you think better about yourself and the world, and learn ways to cope with symptoms should they arise again. A veteran will also be treated for problems often connected to PTSD such as depression, misuse of alcohol or drugs, and anxiety.

PTSD is not your fault. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by seeking a better life for you and your loved ones.