Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

For over 35 years, Vantage Point is the area’s only full service mental health facility with a complete continuum of psychiatric and behavioral health services for children, adults and seniors.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD and mental illness

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once known as “battle fatigue syndrome,” or “shell shock,” is a very serious mental health disorder that develops in response to having witnessed or been a part of a traumatic, terrifying situation in which serious physical harm or death was threatened. After experiencing such an ordeal, it’s completely normal to feel fear, anxiety, and emotional numbing; however, for some people these feelings don’t dissipate over time. Without proper treatment, support, and medication, people who develop PTSD in response to a terrifying ordeal often notice that their feelings become stronger and worse as time passes. Eventually, the symptoms of PTSD hold such a grip over the person that they are unable to lead a functional life.

It’s important to note that not all people who witness or are a part of even the same traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD; however, PTSD is considered a normal reaction to entirely abnormal events. People who do develop PTSD may feel as though they will never fully get over or come to grips with what happened or feel normal again. With the right treatment, social support, medications, and therapies, people who have PTSD can overcome these feelings and go on to lead normal, productive lives.

PTSD Triggers

Types of Traumatic Events Associated with PTSD

While post-traumatic stress disorder was once considered to be an affliction that plagued military service members after a tour of duty, it is now understood that PTSD can be the result of a number of traumatic events. The types of events that precipitate the development of PTSD may include:

  • War
  • Natural disasters
  • Automobile accidents
  • Plane crashes
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Assault
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Childhood abuse and/or neglect
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening medical condition
  • Being the victim of torture


PTSD statistics

About 6 out of 10 men and 5 out of every 10 women experience one or more traumatic events in their lives; however, this does not mean that each person will develop the disorder. About 7 or 8 of every 100 people will develop the disorder, and about 5.2 million adults develop PTSD each year, which is only a small percentage of those who have undergone a traumatic event.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

It’s important to remember that not every person who survives a particularly traumatic event will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder – in fact, most do not. However, it’s thought that there are a wide array of causes and risk factors that are involved in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. These may include:

Genetic: It’s believed that genetics do play a role in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and the development of fear memories. Additionally, people who have a first-degree relative who are diagnosed with a mental illness may be at a higher risk for developing PTSD when exposed to traumatic situations than those who do not.

Physical: There appear to be areas of the brain that are responsible for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. The amygdala, which plays a role in memory, emotion, and learning, appears to be active while learning to feel fear during a learned terrifying event. The prefrontal cortex of the brain appears to play a role in dampening the fear response. It’s likely that these two structures are changed in those who develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Environmental: Those who were abused in some form as a child – neglect, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse – appear to have a higher risk for developing PTSD than those who do not.

Risk factors for PTSD:

  • Sustained duration of traumatic event
  • Increased amounts of traumatic events
  • Increased severity of traumatic event
  • Were harmed during the event
  • Believed that death was imminent
  • Presence of emotional condition prior to event
  • Having little-to-no social support
  • Being female
  • Being a child or adolescent
  • People who have learning disabilities
  • Those with violence in the home

Protective factors for PTSD:

  • Seeking out the support in family, friends, and others
  • Attending support groups following an event
  • Having coping strategies
  • The ability to act and respond appropriately and effectively, despite feeling fear
  • Feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of a dangerous event

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

The signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop and worsen one month following the traumatic event. Signs and symptoms will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, risk factors, protective factors, and co-occurring mental health disorders. The three main types of symptoms experienced by people who have PTSD include:

Re-Experiencing Symptoms:

  • Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
  • Nightmares
  • Recurrent, involuntary, and distressing memory of the event
  • Disruption in everyday routine
  • Intense physical reactions to flashbacks
  • Severe distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Being triggered by words, objects, or situations that remind the person of the event

Avoidance Symptoms:

  • Emotional numbing
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the event
  • Avoiding activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Avoiding certain places, events, or objects that remind a person of the trauma
  • Challenges recalling important parts of the traumatic event
  • General memory problems
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Trouble concentrating

Hyperarousal Symptoms:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Bering easily startled or frightened
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Feeling constantly tense or on-edge
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hallucinations


Effects of PTSD

The long-term effects associated with PTSD can cause significant impairment for those diagnosed with this disorder. Additionally, PTSD can place an individual at a higher risk for developing a number of other mental health disorders and certain medical illnesses. Fortunately, proper treatment, support, and lifestyle changes can help these individuals to move past their PTSD and lead happy lives.

Long-term, chronic problems that may develop, or get worse, over time due to untreated post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Loss of occupational or scholastic functioning
  • Decreased ability to have successful interpersonal relationships
  • Divorce
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Worsening physical health problems
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

Post-traumatic stress disorder often presents alongside other mental health disorders; 80% of those diagnosed with PTSD are struggling with another disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Conduct disorder (children and teens)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (children and teens)
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other anxiety disorders

I had a great experience at this facility. I have been to one other facility in the past and I can really tell the difference. The process starts with a FREE assessment and it was done relatively quickly. The staff were empathetic and seemed to really care about helping me. Once I got on the unit I met with other staff who were equally helpful. I got to meet with my doctor and therapist while here and my stay was actually pretty comfortable. I was especially pleased with the beginning stages as I was desperate for help and I got it quickly. The hospital is open 24/7 and an assessment can be done without an appointment.

– A Former Resident