PTSD – The Basics

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric illness that results in the aftermath of a triggering, traumatic event. Those with PTSD can experience anger, avoidance issues, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks to the inciting event. Most commonly associated with combat trauma, PTSD can occur in the general population after a traumatic event. 

PTSD affects an estimated 7.7 million American adults. PTSD often presents in tandem with substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. It can also result from traumatic brain injuries. 

Those with PTSD can often feel as if there is little hope and that their condition is permanent. Working with a mental health professional, however, can significantly reduce symptoms in a patient. 

Categories of PTSD

PTSD can be divided into four distinct categories, each with its own symptoms:

  • Avoidance: Patients with this category of PTSD tend to avoid all thoughts of an event or its associated triggers
  • Intrusive memories: Those with this type of PTSD are plagued by recurrent thoughts of the inciting incident, including flashbacks.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions: This type of PTSD manifests through significant emotional and physical changes. 
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: PTSD patients in this category focus obsessively on the negative, to the detriment of their quality of life and relationships. 

People with PTSD can have some combination of the above types. Different types of PTSD are typically the result of certain triggers. 

PTSD Triggers

Many traumatic events can cause PTSD, including:

  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Robbery
  • Car accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Terror attacks
  • Shootings
  • Domestic abuse
  • Bombings
  • Mugging
  • Plane crashes
  • Train accidents
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Extreme violence

No one with PTSD should compare their trauma to another patient’s. This can lead to concerns around whether a trauma is “serious enough” to warrant intervention. Each PTSD experience is unique to the patient and deserves a compassionate response. 

PTSD Symptoms

Again, PTSD is unique to each individual. Two people can experience the same traumatic event and come out with very different manifestations of the disorder, or one of them might not have it at all. PTSD can also vary in its symptoms between men, women, and veterans. 

PTSD Symptoms in Women

Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop PTSD. Typical symptoms in women include:

  • Emotional numbness or catatonia
  • Depression
  • Scaring easily
  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance

Women tend to avoid treatment more than men. This may be related to the nature of the triggers they go through.

PTSD Symptoms in Men

Men with PTSD often present with the following symptoms:

  • Substance abuse
  • Irritable mood
  • Impulsive behavior

In general, men get treatment within a year of the inciting event. It is recommended that anyone showing symptoms with three months of a triggering event get treatment immediately.

Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans

Once known as “shell shock”, PTSD occurs in many veterans of war. Veterans can experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Needing to stay “on guard” all the time
  • Insomnia
  • Getting startled easily by noises
  • Irritable or angry
  • Emotionally numb or detached

PTSD Treatments

Effective PTSD treatments can include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Patients should work closely with a mental health professional to develop the right approach for them. 

PTSD Support Groups

PTSD is often an isolating condition. PTSD support groups can help those with PTSD understand they are not alone in their struggles. In these group sessions, PTSD patients share and listen to stories under the guidance of a counselor. 

Individual PTSD Therapy

Talk therapies and other psychological interventions can work well for patients with PTSD. Options in individual therapy include:

  • CBT
  • Prolonged Exposure
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Narrative Exposure Therapy

Therapist-Led Trauma Group Therapy

A therapist-led trauma group therapy session brings together the benefits of individual therapy and a support group. The therapist works to maintain a constructive environment while also providing the patients in the group with tips and coping mechanisms.