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What is PTSD?

When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, you may think about someone returning from war, or a survivor of a mass shooting. In reality, any traumatic or dangerous event can cause symptoms of PTSD.

Most people will experience a traumatic or dangerous event in their lifetime. This may be the unexpected death of a loved one, or surviving a natural disaster. In most cases, the person will recover naturally. Those who continue to experience symptoms associated with the event may be diagnosed with PTSD.

The duration of PTSD will vary. Some people will recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some cases, the condition may become chronic.

When to See a Doctor

Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to other medical problems, including substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, or the ability to cope with day-to-day life. It is important that if you or a loved one has symptoms of PTSD, that you consult with a healthcare provider immediately.

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.


Our body is designed to respond to stressful situations for short period of times to keep us safe and alert us to danger. When this stress response keeps happening, even when the person is safe and no longer in danger, it might lead to or become PTSD.

Diagnosis and Tests

When diagnosing PTSD, a mental health provider will first ask about the event(s) and duration of symptoms.


The main treatment for someone with PTSD is therapy. Some people may also benefit from medication. However, the type of treatment depends on the individual.

It is important that a mental health provider who is experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder treat anyone with PTSD. Evidence-based treatments include Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) for children and adolescents.


Ongoing research suggests that early intervention following a traumatic experience(s) may reduce a person’s risk of developing PTSD.


Symptoms of PTSD may start shortly after the traumatic event. Sometimes symptoms may not appear until months or years after the event.

Symptoms must last for more than a month to be considered PTSD. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Frightening memories of the trauma
  • Bad dreams or difficulty sleeping
  • Avoiding places or events that may be reminders of the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Having angry outbursts or increased irritability
  • Feeling guilt or shame related to the event
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Negative or suicidal thoughts
  • Flashbacks or instances where the event is re-lived
  • More scared than normal, or looking out for danger in common locations

Young children can exhibit additional symptoms of PTSD. These include:

  • Acting out
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
  • Withdrawn behaviors