Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder occurring after a dangerous or frightening event. Although PTSD is most often associated with war and veterans, anyone can experience PTSD after any type of traumatic incident, including natural disasters, serious accidents, assault or abuse. PTSD can be short-term or ongoing, can begin immediately after the event or several years later and can vary in symptoms and severity. Someone experiencing PTSD may re-experience symptoms of the traumatic event, feel the need to avoid places or things relating to the event, experience constant reactive arousal (for example always feeling “on-edge”) or have cognitive difficulty or mood changes.
An adult must experience these symptoms for at least a month before diagnosis. Treatment can involve psychotherapy and/or medication. Generally treatment is more effective the earlier it begins, as it can help reduce long-term symptoms. An estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
While experiencing trauma after a distressing event is normal, reliving the event and immediate symptoms or reactions to the event may indicate PTSD. A person with PTSD may involuntarily relive the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweatiness, feel detached or empty, feel tense or irritable, have difficulty sleeping or difficulty concentrating. For some, PTSD can affect personal relationships and their ability to go about their daily routine as usual. Without treatment, people with PTSD are at a higher risk for unemployment and divorce or separation. The disorder is also often accompanied by anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
There are a number of foundations available to provide help and support for people with PTSD. While many are aimed specifically at veterans, others seek to raise awareness for the non-military civilians who have PTSD and change the stereotype that PTSD is only caused by war.