Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of posttraumatic stress disorder is an important part of the effort to get help for yourself or your loved one. At Rio Vista Behavioral Health in El Paso, Texas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for adolescents and adults who have been struggling with PTSD.
Learn about posttraumatic stress disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that occurs in the aftermath of one or several traumatic occurrences. PTSD can affect adolescents and adults who have been directly involved in traumatic events, as well as those who have witnessed traumatic events or have learned about the details of traumatic experiences that occurred to a loved one.
The common element among traumatic events that lead to PTSD is that they cause people to believe that they are in danger of dying, being seriously injured, or experiencing sexual violence. Examples of traumatic occurrences that can precede the development of PTSD include military combat, acts of terrorism, physical or sexual abuse, automobile accidents, verbal harassment, natural disasters, and serious illnesses.
In the aftermath of events like the ones described in the previous paragraph, it is common for a person to experience temporary shock, sadness, fear, anxiety, and related emotions. These responses are normal and healthy. However, if you continue to struggle with distressing feelings for an extended period of time, and if these feelings are so severe that they negatively impact your ability to function, you may have developed PTSD.
The good news about posttraumatic stress disorder is that it is a treatable condition. When you receive proper professional care for PTSD, you can learn to manage your symptoms and regain control of your thoughts and actions. With the right help, you can overcome the effects of PTSD and once again live a happier and more satisfying life.
Statistics about PTSD
The National Center for PTSD and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have reported the following statistics about the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder on adolescents and adults in the United States:
- About 8% of people in the United States will develop PTSD over the course of their lifetime.
- The lifetime rate of PTSD is higher among women (10%) than among men (4%).
- Among adults who have PTSD, almost 70% meet the criteria for moderate to serious impairment as established by the Sheehan Disability Scale.
- PTSD impacts about 5% of adolescents ages 13–18.
- Among adolescents, the rate of PTSD is higher among girls (8%) than among boys (2.3%)
Causes and risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder
Everyone who develops PTSD will have experienced, witnessed, or learned about at least one traumatic event. But many people who experience, witness, or learn about trauma do not develop PTSD.
As is the case with most mental health disorders, experts have not identified one single cause or risk factor for all cases of PTSD. However, the following factors can increase a person’s likelihood for developing PTSD in the aftermath of trauma:
- Gender (PTSD is more common among adolescent girls and adult women than among adolescent boys and adult men)
- Personal or family history of mental illness
- Personal history of childhood adversity, such as abuse, neglect, or extreme poverty
- Experiencing multiple types of trauma or particularly severe forms of trauma
- Low educational advancement
- Insufficient social support
- Lack of effective coping skills
Symptoms of PTSD
A person who develops posttraumatic stress disorder may experience a wide range of signs and symptoms. Each person’s experience with PTSD will be unique to them, depending upon a variety of personal factors. However, the following are among the more common signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder:
- Acting with uncharacteristic aggressiveness or recklessness
- Destroying property, getting into fights, or otherwise behaving violently
- Altering behaviors to avoid people, places, events, or other reminders of the traumatic event
- Abusing alcohol or other drugs
- Lack of energy and persistent fatigue
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Exaggerated startle response
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Dramatic mood swings
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Recurrent unwanted memories of the trauma
- Persistent sense of danger or dread
- Depersonalization (sensation of being unconnected or detached from your body)
- Derealization (sensation that the world around you is not real)
Effects of posttraumatic stress disorder
Untreated PTSD can have a profound negative impact on your life. As with the signs and symptoms of PTSD, the effects of PTSD will vary from person to person. However, failing to get effective care for posttraumatic stress disorder can put you at increased risk for a multitude of distressing outcomes, including the following:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Discord within your family
- Strained or ruined relationships with friends and colleagues
- Substandard performance in school or at work
- Academic failure, job loss, and unemployment
- Financial difficulties
- Physical injuries due to reckless, dangerous, or violent behaviors
- Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration, due to reckless, dangerous, or violent behaviors
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Onset or worsening of other mental health disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Common co-occurring disorders among people who have PTSD
People who struggle with PTSD are also at increased risk for certain other disorders, including the following:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Substance use disorders (the clinical term for addiction)