How to Recognize PTSD

According to the Veterans Administration, approximately 8 million people in the United Stated have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That is about 7-8% of the US population. About 10% of women and 4% of men will develop PTSD. That is a huge number of people, yet we spend little time talking about what PTSD actually is.

Many people move through their lives knowing that something isn't right. They have strange thoughts or feelings pop into their heads. They feel overly jumpy or have trouble sleeping. The world seems dangerous and people untrustworthy. They may be able to connect this to terrible experiences they've had, but they may worry about being overly dramatic or "crazy."

Having the words to define your experience can be both incredibly validating and provide a direction forward. PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It is a natural response that many people have following a traumatic experience.

PTSD can develop in response to a wide variety of experiences, such as:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

  • Threats of violence

  • Shocking medical diagnoses

  • Tragic losses

  • Life-threatening accidents

There are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of developing PTSD following a trauma. These include:

  • Having experienced childhood traumas

  • Being emotionally neglected as a child

  • Freezing during the traumatic event

  • Tending to avoid strong emotions

  • A deep sense of shame about what happened

  • Others invalidating the significance of your experience

The DSM-5, psychology's diagnostic manual, describes four categories of symptoms that people with PTSD experience.

  1. The first are "intrusive" symptoms, such as involuntary memories, nightmares, flashbacks, and intense distress triggered by reminders of the events.

  2. Second are "avoidant" symptoms; the person makes a persistent effort to avoid memories, thoughts, feelings, people, places, or situations that remind them of the trauma.

  3. Next are changes to thinking and mood. This may include difficulty remembering import aspects of what happened, a new tendency to see oneself and others as bad or untrustworthy, a distorted belief that one is to blame for what happened, a persistent negative emotional state, a lack of interest in important activities, or difficulty experiencing positive emotions.

  4. The fourth category of symptoms are changes to how on alert a person may be. These symptoms include being more irritable or angry, being reckless, always being on alert for danger, being easily startled, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems.

Although this is not a category of symptoms required for diagnosis, it is important to note that some people also dissociate, which means they experience themselves as feeling detached from their bodies or as if the world around them is unreal or distorted.

If these symptoms connect with your experiences, then you may have PTSD. If you have not already, talk to a mental health professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis and learn about your treatment options.

Again, having PTSD is now about being weak, overly dramatic, or "crazy." It is a natural response many people have to traumatic experiences. Both you and your pain deserve respect and caring as you work to find your way forward.

Reach out if you'd like to further discuss whether you or someone you love may have PTSD and how therapy can help.