It’s only normal for someone to feel fearful after a traumatic event but post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are something more. About 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one traumatic event in their life. Roughly 7 to 8 percent of the population develops post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a serious mental health condition that results after experiencing a traumatic event. Many people have heard of it from reports of soldiers returning from wars overseas with the disorder. War isn’t the only traumatic event that causes it, though.

How do you know the difference between someone experiencing healthy fear and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms? There are a few noticeable differences to keep an eye out for. PTSD is treatable but it helps to intervene as early as possible. Continue reading to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder, how to know if someone has it, and how to help.

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

There are about 8 million adults in the United States living with post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year. It’s a staggering number on its own but small when you consider how many people experience trauma. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event develops PTSD. At the same time, developing it doesn’t make a person weak.

Who Can Get PTSD

Again, many people first hear of the condition from reports of soldiers who return from war. They experience first-hand for long periods of time what most can only hardly imagine. War isn’t the only type of traumatic event that leads to PTSD, though. People may develop post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after experiencing any type of trauma.

Some other kinds of events that may lead to PTSD include:

  • Severe car accidents
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Surviving the effects of a natural disaster
  • Living through an extremely violent attack
  • Witnessing the assault or attack of another person
  • Extreme neglect, especially during developmental years
  • Childhood abuse, including physical, psychological, or sexual abuse

Another thing to consider is that some people are more predisposed to developing PTSD than others. Those with a history of mental illness in their family usually have a higher chance of getting it at some point in their life. Thankfully, post-traumatic stress disorder is not a permanent condition. Doctors can usually treat it and help people return to their normal lives.

Diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms of PTSD usually tend to show within three months of the traumatic event, but sometimes they come on later. They must last for at least a month and impact a person’s ability to function effectively in their relationships or at school or work. Not everyone experiences PTSD exactly the same but there are some signs that doctors look for.

Diagnosing post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Clinicians split post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms into four categories. A person needs to show a certain number of symptoms from each category in order to receive a PTSD diagnosis.

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms refer to the way people tend to relive the event, leading to extreme distress. They experience intrusive images and thoughts that may show up and invade their minds at any time. Re-experiencing symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks (or reliving the traumatic event)
  • Nightmares
  • Terrifying, intruding thoughts

Someone needs to show at least one re-experiencing symptom for diagnosis.

2. Avoidance symptoms

These post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms refer to the way people avoid people, places, or things that remind them of the traumatic event. They might also try to steer their thoughts clear of the event or avoid thinking about it entirely. Avoidance symptoms can cause a noticeable impact on a person’s everyday life, especially if the event occurred close to home.

Someone needs to show at least one avoidance symptom for diagnosis.

3. Arousal and reactivity symptoms

Arousal and reactivity symptoms are often constant physical responses, not only triggered by things that remind the person of the event. They tend to interfere with the person’s ability to navigate their daily life because they seem to exist in a fight or flight mode. Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, tense, or “on edge”
  • Being jumpy or startling easy
  • Experiencing outbursts of frustration or anger
  • Having difficulties sleeping

Someone needs to show at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms for diagnosis.

4. Cognition and mood symptoms

These post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have to do with the person’s mood or general cognitive abilities. Oftentimes the stress that results from a traumatic event affects the person’s overall interest or ability to interact. They tend to withdraw from those around them and spend time alone. Cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • Feeling guilty or taking the blame for the event
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Carrying negative thoughts or beliefs about themselves or the world
  • Having difficulties remembering important facts or details about the event

Someone needs to show at least two cognition and mood symptoms for diagnosis.

Infographic: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in 4 Categories

How to Treat PTSD

Seek help if you notice someone you love showing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Seeking help doesn’t make a person weak. It makes them strong for wanting to work through the traumatic event in order to get back to their everyday life. Psychologists and psychiatrists who understand how to work with PTSD will be most helpful.

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