What is PTSD, and who does it affect?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an illness that affects approximately one-in-five veterans from all eras. It is an acute reaction to a traumatic event that can cause negative symptoms associated with that trauma.

The technical definition of PTSD is “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Symptoms 

Did you know that there are 4 main types of PTSD symptoms?

1) Reliving the event

When a traumatic event happens, a lasting symptom of PTSD is the reliving of the traumatic event. At any point you can feel that sense of horror you had when the event happened.

This may come about through nightmares, flashbacks, or a trigger like a sight, smell, or sound that reminds you of the event.

2) Avoiding a situation that reminds you of the event 

When triggers happen, they usually don’t happen just once. When these triggers occur, you might be able to eventually identify situations in which they are more likely to come about, and begin to avoid those situations.

Examples of this might be avoiding crowds, driving, or events involving fireworks because these could trigger a combat experience.

3) Negative changes in your personal feelings or beliefs

This symptom is typically what causes emotional withdrawal of those with PTSD. Due to the trauma you might:

  • Stop trusting loved ones, and avoid relationships
  • Have repressed memories of the trauma you suffered, and not be able to talk about it.
  • Lose faith in others, and the world around you.

4) Hyperarousal (feeling “amped up” or on edge)

The fight-or-flight reaction that humans have is a valuable asset for survival. The adrenaline released helps you to quickly evaluate danger when it comes about, and act accordingly for self-preservation.

But when you experience a trauma, this can send your system into overdrive and cause you to constantly be on the lookout for danger. Symptoms of hyperarousal can include insomnia, difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, or being overly cautious (like sitting with you back against the wall in a restaurant).

When should I seek help?

If you have these symptoms that haven’t gone away after 4 weeks, or if they are bad enough to cause distress or your ability to function on a daily basis, you should seek help.

It’s important to remember that seeking help isn’t admitting defeat or weakness. This illness can send your life into a tailspin. Sometimes it might get better on its own, but many times, it won’t go away without help.

You should also recognize that the sooner you get help, the more likely you are to be able to overcome PTSD. Don’t let this illness dictate your life. Be proactive – get help!

Where do I get help?

PTSD can come and go over time, and sometimes it may not present itself until months or years after you experience the trauma. Seeking help can help you learn how to cope with the lasting symptoms and address the issue directly.

If you’re in need of help, there are many resources available to you.

If you’re experiencing a crisis, or you’re having thoughts of suicide:

  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest Emergency Room
  • Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 
  • Contact the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1 (text 838255) or Confidential Veterans Chat with a counselor

Here are other helpful resources, courtesy of the VA’s National Center for PTSD:

PTSD Care for Everyone

PTSD Care for Veterans, Military, and Families