How to Recognize the Signs of Posttraumatic Stress (PTSD)

Posttraumatic stressPerson sits on sofa in dark room, covering eyes with one hand, or PTSD as it is more commonly referred to, is a serious condition that affects many people worldwide. As June is PTSD Awareness Month, learning more about this condition can be helpful in order to gain a better understanding of the struggles that many individuals deal with on a daily basis.

Although PTSD affects numerous people, military service members tend to be more often affected by this condition than others due to the nature of their jobs. They are frequently exposed to traumatic events on a routine basis, especially during tours of duty in combat zones. The peace we take for granted in our country can be shattered in an instant through the life-and-death situations they encounter every day. Even if they are not physically wounded in battle, their psychological wounds can be deep and long-lasting. Trying to pick up the pieces after their return to “normal” life can be difficult, both for themselves as well as their friends and loved ones, who often have trouble understanding what they have gone through and the ways in which they have changed.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs between 1999 to 2010 revealed that about 22 veterans lost their lives to suicide every day—a higher number than those who die on the battlefield (Kemp, J., and Bossart, R., 2012). With statistics this alarming, learning to look for warning signs of PTSD can be an important first step toward addressing it.

Although being exposed to a war zone is a common cause of PTSD, many other situations can cause ongoing trauma. Other experiences that commonly lead to symptoms of posttraumatic stress include both natural and man-made disasters, abuse or assault, and serious accidents. Individuals who have learned about a traumatic situation involving a loved one can also experience PTSD, as can people who are exposed to many other types of experiences.

Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD in a person include (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

  1. Recurrent intrusive thoughts and memories of the traumatic event and/or difficulties remembering some aspects of the event.
  2. Insomnia and difficulties sleeping, which often includes having frequent nightmares about the event.
  3. Flashbacks and hallucinations that lead the individual to believe the event is recurring.
  4. Feelings of panic or extreme distress whenever something reminds them of the event.
  5. Increased irritability or anger.
  6. Hypervigilance and preoccupation with the possibility of the event happening again.
  7. Avoidance of anything or anyone that reminds the individual of the traumatic event.
  8. A sense of isolation from other people, including family and loved ones.
  9. An inability to enjoy activities that used to be significant to them.
  10. Feelings of numbness and detachment from their emotions.

Any of the above may be warning signs that should be taken seriously. As mentioned earlier, individuals who have experienced traumatic events are at greater risk than the general population of dying by suicide. They may also have a greater likelihood of self-medicating through the use of alcohol or drugs, if they do not receive treatment.

Although trauma can have devastating effects on many, receiving appropriate treatment can help to alleviate many of the symptoms experienced and assist individuals with returning to happy and productive lives. Recognizing there is a problem and assisting the individual with obtaining help are the first steps in the healing process.

References:

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed.(DSM-5). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Kemp, J. &, Bossart, R. (2012). Suicide Data Report. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services Suicide Prevention Program. Retrieved from http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/suicide-data-report-2012-final.pdf

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • annette

    June 2nd, 2016 at 7:04 AM

    I would be so scared if I knew that a loved one was experiencing this kind of pain. And the bad thing is that there is nothing that you can do alone, you need some help getting through this, and there are many who will continue to feel like they can ignore that kind of help. They either don’t want to admit that they need it or they are scared or they do not know where to reach out and access those resources.

  • Gerard

    June 3rd, 2016 at 6:49 AM

    My uncle had this for years of military service, but you know, never got any help for it. Just went through life being scared and miserable.

  • Paula

    June 3rd, 2016 at 1:32 PM

    I know these types of feelings, I have been there and until I found a therapist who helped me to come clean about my past and devise a way to create a new future, this was the reality in which I was stuck. It’s no fun, but I feel better now than I have in years because I have finally come to terms with the things that have happened to me and now understand that they are a part of the fabric that makes me who I am. These are things that I should not have to feel ashamed of or have to run from anymore. I have accepted this and moved on.

  • terrell

    June 5th, 2016 at 1:15 PM

    I really believe that people don’t want to get help for this because they are terrified of how they would then be identified if they did.
    I think that there is still a huge stereotype about people who have mental illness and that scares a lot of people away from looking for help even if they are wise enough on most levels to know that this is what they need.
    The biggest issue that we face is not that there isn’t help available, but that we as a society still feel like we have to be afraid of what other people will think if we do ask for help, so most of the time we suffer in silence and keep those fears to ourselves.

  • Fred

    June 9th, 2016 at 3:55 PM

    military service makes it awfully difficult to even admit that you need help, much less seek it out

  • C.

    June 10th, 2016 at 9:46 PM

    Whats worse than having extreme ptsd? ….having ptsd,depression,anxiety and ur family is non existant(they really dont give a shit) and u have NO ONE…. If it werent for God…idk how id survive… And fyi, if u can relate and have lost all hope..GET URSELF A PUPPY…i thought i forgot how to laugh until my lil daisy came into my life…she has been THE BEST MEDICINE..no joke. Trust me, i know what im talking about ;)

  • Cm

    July 25th, 2016 at 7:51 PM

    I really like what “c” said my kitten bought such great joy to my life.
    Just one question, can’t ptsd be more than military related? Such as rape, sexual molesting by a parent or abuse by spouse or boyfriend, because I constantly live on the edge ,if someone walks up behind me I get so startled I become severally anxious and afraid. I do see a therapist and am seeking help for the abuse from a local domestic violence center and I also see a psychrysist , the meds really help but it’s a life time of recovery. I often feel stuck as I am still with a 23 year abuser but I am working on that, so scared to make a choice. Buy my cat melts my heart, she found me.

  • Kristie J.

    June 2nd, 2017 at 4:36 AM

    I get severely anxious when someone stands behind me. I hate it. So I know how that goes.

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