More than 8 million Americans age 18 and older have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by trauma.

PTSD was once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome and was associated primarily with war soldiers, but anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can develop PTSD.

Flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and anxiety are all typical signs of PTSD, and in the most severe cases, the symptoms can impact a person’s ability to function from day to day. Seeking early treatment for PTSD can help alleviate some, if not all, of the symptoms over time.

Why does PTSD occur?

Not everyone who experiences severe trauma will develop PTSD; some factors make certain people at higher risk. The types of situations that can lead to PTSD include:

  • Physical or sexual assault

  • War trauma

  • Serious accidents resulting in traumatic brain injury

  • Witnessing a traumatic event

  • Medical trauma from serious health issues

  • Traumatic childbirth or infant loss

  • Miscarriage

  • Domestic violence

  • Childhood abuse

Just having a previous traumatic event occur doesn’t necessarily mean someone will develop PTSD. Having a history of untreated depression or anxiety is a known risk factor for developing PTSD, as well as having a family history of mental illness.

There are different types of PTSD. Uncomplicated PTSD is linked to one traumatic experience, such as an accident or sexual assault, and is usually the most straightforward form of PTSD to treat. Complex PTSD is caused by multiple traumatic events or experiences such as repeated exposure to violence or abuse. While the symptoms of complex PTSD can be the same as uncomplicated PTSD, the treatment is often more intense and complicated. Disorders such as borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and behaviors such as aggression, rage, and substance abuse can often be linked to complex PTSD.

Since many people live with more than one mental health condition, a common form of PTSD is comorbid PTSD, which is just another term for co-occurring conditions. It applies when someone has more than one mental health disorder, often coupled with substance abuse. Many people who live with comorbid PTSD try to treat it independently with destructive behaviors and self-medication through alcohol or drugs. Ultimately, this behavior will only make matters worse and can delay treatment.

What PTSD looks like

Symptoms of PTSD can appear shortly after a traumatic event, but often symptoms don’t appear until years afterward. Some of the symptoms can cause significant issues in relationships and interfere with the ability to function day-to-day. Common symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks and nightmares, but can also include:

  • Severe emotional or physical reactions when reminded of past trauma

  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that are reminders of a traumatic event

  • Frequent feelings of hopelessness

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

  • Detachment from family and friends

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Emotional numbness

  • Exaggerated startle response

  • Hypervigilance- always “on guard”

  • Self-medicating through alcohol and substance abuse

  • Sleeping issues

  • Excessive irritability

  • Aggression

  • Angry outbursts

  • Overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt

  • Thoughts of suicide

  • Physical symptoms such as stomach issues or severe headaches

PTSD symptoms can grow in intensity over time, and the symptoms may increase under stress. Sights, sounds, even smells that remind someone of the trauma they’ve experienced may be enough to trigger symptoms.

When to seek treatment for PTSD

The decision to seek treatment for PTSD symptoms can be scary. It’s not unusual for people with mental health conditions like PTSD to avoid talking about it, but getting help is the best thing you can do.

Getting effective treatment as soon as possible after PTSD symptoms develop can be crucial to reducing symptoms and improving your quality of life. For some people, symptoms may continue after treatment, but through therapy, you can learn skills to cope with them better.

You don’t have to suffer alone with PTSD. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms that are taking control of your life, reach out to Serene Health. We have appointments available via our Telemed app so you can speak to a therapist from the location of your choice. Later evening and weekend appointments are available. Call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at to schedule an appointment.