Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, as it is commonly known) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either by experiencing or by witnessing it.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.


Symptoms of PTSD may begin as soon as 3-4 weeks after the triggering event, or may develop years later. Symptoms of PTSD may cause significant problems in social or work situations, and often affect relationships.

Symptoms of PTSD can largely be grouped into 4 types.

  1. Intrusive memories: These may include recurrent, distressing memories of the truamatic event, flashbacks, upsetting dreams or nightmares, and severe emotional distress to a similar situation.
  2. Avoidance: ignoring or suppressing thoughts that recur.
  3. Negative changes in mood and thoughts: symptoms of negative thoughts and personality changes may occur, which can include feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, difficulty experiencing positive emotions, and emotional numbing.
  4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions: affected person may become easily startled or frightened, along with always being on guard and/or having overwhelming guilt or shame.

In kids, especially those 6 years or younger, signs may also include re-enacting the traumatic event through play, and frightening dreams that may or may not contain aspects of the event itself.

Inherited mental health risks such as family history of depression, anxiety and suicide may pre-dispose certain individuals to experience PTSD at a lower threshold than other individuals.

Substance abuse may also make a person more likely to experience PTSD, as may intense life events such as child abuse, exposure to war or war-like conditions, famine  and other significant life events.

Most common events leading to PTSD include:

Combat exposure

Childhood physical abuse

Sexual violence

physical assault


PTSD can disrupt the entire life of the sufferer, affecting relationships, work and daily activities. PTSD also increases an individual’s risk of the following:

Depression and anxiety

Substance abuse

Suicidal thoughts and actions

Eating disorders


The main treatments for people with PTSD are medications, psychotherapy, or both. Everyone is different, and PTSD affects people differently so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. It is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD. Some people with PTSD need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms.

If someone with PTSD is going through an ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both of the problems need to be addressed. Other ongoing problems can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal.


Dr. Annie

Physician, mom and wife

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