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What is PTSD? Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can happen after experiencing significant trauma. PTSD entails a cluster of symptoms that can impact your physical health and emotional well-being.

Research shows that approximately 3.5% of the American population has PTSD at some point during their lives. That said, it's still largely misunderstood. If you or a loved one might be struggling, let's get into what you should know.

What Is PTSD?

Reacting to trauma is normal. We're wired to protect ourselves, and when our lives are in jeopardy, it's reasonable that we feel anxious, depressed, or numb afterward. Over time, these symptoms tend to fade away- it becomes easier to adapt to the normal routine.

The opposite often happens with PTSD. In this case, symptoms often progress and worsen over time. You might feel increasingly guilty, angry, or lonely.

PTSD symptoms can first appear within a few weeks or months after the traumatic event. Sometimes they don't show up for many years. The main symptoms include:

  • flashbacks.

  • intrusive thoughts about the trauma.

  • severe, chronic nightmares.

  • isolating from friends and family.

  • feeling responsible for what happened.

  • suicidal thoughts.

  • issues remembering the event.

  • panic attacks.

  • having racing thoughts.

  • feeling hypervigilant around other people.

  • avoiding certain places or events associated with the trauma.

  • refusing to talk about the trauma.

  • persistent numbness.

  • having angry outbursts (sometimes while asleep).

  • ongoing feelings of hopelessness.

  • apathy (lack of interest in usual relationships or activities)

To meet the criteria for PTSD, these symptoms must last for at least one month and impact your daily functioning. PTSD often coincides with other mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.

PTSD Risk Factors

Although researchers don't know the exact cause of PTSD, several risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing this condition.

Past History of Complex Trauma

Complex trauma can be hard to define because it doesn't always have a defined beginning, middle, or end. The trauma is repeated, which is common in instances of domestic violence, childhood abuse, or neglect.

Family History of Mental Illness

Having a family history of mental illness or PTSD can increase your risk of developing it. This probably happens due to a combination of genetic and environmental variables. You may also be more likely to experience PTSD symptoms if you have had PTSD in the past.

Significant Life Changes After the Trauma

In some cases, the trauma profoundly impacts the rest of your life. For example, the death of a spouse may require you to relocate, adjust as a single parent, or return to work. A chronic injury might entail shifting your entire identity to accommodate the sudden change.

Limited Coping Skills

People with strong coping skills may react better to traumatic events. They know how to practice self-care when things get stressful. But if you struggle to implement healthy coping skills into your life, you may feel more reactive to the situation.

Limited Support

Our relationships help us feel connected and validated. Support can make a tremendous difference in reminding you that you're not alone. If you don't have close friends or family, you might struggle with adjusting to the aftermath of your trauma.

PTSD Treatment Options

PTSD is treatable, and many people recover from their debilitating symptoms and learn how to live a more meaningful life.

Keep in mind that treatment is unique. What works for someone else may not work as well for you. You may need to experiment with different approaches to find the best method.


EMDR is a brief, structured therapy that helps clients feel more desensitized to their trauma symptoms. This process includes several treatment phases that include learning new coping skills, retelling your story, and becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings.


CBT is a collaborative therapy that helps clients understand how their thoughts affect both their emotions and behaviors. By learning how to challenge negative thoughts, you can essentially reframe how your trauma impacts you.

Experiential Therapies

Many people benefit from experiential therapies that integrate dance, art, or animals. These therapies can supplement traditional talk therapies or act as a standalone treatment.

Support Groups

Many local facilities, treatment centers, and therapists offer support groups for PTSD recovery. These groups provide a validating, safe space to explore your feelings with other like-minded individuals.


Antidepressants can help reduce some of the depressive and anxious symptoms associated with PTSD. The length of this treatment varies based on the severity of your condition and your response to the medication.

Holistic Adjustments

Like with any mental health condition, it's important to focus on building a healthy lifestyle. This includes integrating mindfulness, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and building a healthy support system.

Final Thoughts

PTSD can be complex, but recovery is possible. If you're struggling, consider reaching out for support.

At The Mental Health House, we provide safety, community, and the opportunity for healing. Contact us today to learn more.

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