Understanding PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that can develop after a traumatic event. Violence, natural disasters, and other terrifying situations can trigger PTSD, and symptoms may last for months or years and may not begin until long after the event.

Feeling upset or frightened is normal after a scary or shocking experience. Individuals living with PTSD experience intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, debilitating changes in their moods and behavior, and strong reactions to reminders of the event over a long period. 

An estimated 12 million Americans suffer from PTSD each year.


The diagnosis of PTSD is based on specific symptoms that last for at least one month after the event:

  • Re-experiencing the event, often with physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart
  • Avoidance of places, events, and things that bring up memories of the event
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or aggressive outbursts
  • Cognition and mood symptoms, such as depression or feelings of guilt or shame

For a diagnosis of PTSD, an individual must have at least one re-experiencing symptom, one sign of avoidance, two reactivity symptoms, and two cognition and mood symptoms. 


PTSD can be treated, and people who suffer from PTSD can get better with time. Treatment may include both psychotherapy and medication. 

People in an ongoing traumatic situation, such as an abusive relationship, may need support in dealing with their traumatic situation, as well as with symptoms of PTSD.

Those who link PTSD to a previous trauma can also experience other mental health concerns:

  • depression
  • panic disorder
  • substance abuse
  • suicidal thoughts

These patients may need treatment for these conditions as well as for PTSD.

Action to take

If you think you may be suffering from PTSD, talk with your health care provider. You may receive a referral to a psychiatrist.

Research shows that support from friends and family can be critical to recovery from PSTD. Spend time with supportive people in your life and talk about your experiences with them.

Maintain healthy habits to reduce stress and keep well:

Research shows that maintaining a healthy routine helps reduce stress and supports recovery. 

Recovery from PTSD can be slow and gradual. Give yourself time, and get help when you need it.