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Help With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

  • Oct 04, 2019
Latino Youth: Overcoming Challenges to Mental Health and Access to Care

Latino youth are more likely than their peers to have mental health issues, which often go unaddressed and untreated, according to a recent review of research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Many Latino youth face several stressors related to family life and to community/school that can impact their mental health.

  • Jul 15, 2019
Sense of Smell, Memories and Emotions

Many people have had the experience of a familiar smell bringing up a memory or a feeling. That is just one of several ways our sense of smell is associated with mental health and emotions. Memories associated with a specific odor may be particularly strong. In writing about the relation of these odor-evoked memories to our mental health, psychologist Rachel Herz, Ph.D., concludes that “from numerous perspectives it is evident that the autobiographical memories and emotional associations that are triggered by odors are essential to our psychological and physiological health.”

  • May 14, 2019
Men, Women, and Differing Responses to Stress

Stress affects people in several ways—it activates adrenaline and other hormones, the nervous system and immune system. While not all stress is harmful, and some can even be beneficial, chronic or toxic stress can contribute to health problems. “Men and women react differently to toxic stress because their brains are wired differently,” notes Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., of The Rockefeller University, * “and therefore they may be at risk for different stress-related illnesses.” For example, as a result of chronic stress, women may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression while men may be more likely to develop problems with substance use. 

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Are there physical problems that are commonly associated with PTSD?

In addition to the thoughts and feelings identified in the What is PTSD? section, people with PTSD may also experience physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, nausea, joint pain, headaches, back pain or other types of pain. The person in pain may not realize the connection between their pain and a traumatic event. For people with chronic pain, the pain may actually serve as a reminder of the traumatic event, which in turn may intensify PTSD symptoms. Some people who develop PTSD and chronic pain also experience depression and alcohol and prescription medication misuse. Chronic PTSD has been shown to increase the risk of having a variety of health issues and decreased life expectancy. More

My spouse has just been diagnosed with PTSD, how can I best help?

A person contending with exposure to a traumatic event may feel helpless, prompting a concerned spouse to want to take action to help. Perhaps the most powerful approach is to just be there for the person, show acceptance and concern, and listen without being judgmental or giving advice. Allow your spouse to talk about the trauma only if he or she would like to and encourage additional support from family, friends and faith and community resources. Encouraging healthy living, such as attention to diet, exercise and refraining from smoking and excessive use of alcohol, is important. It would also be a good time to plan relaxing enjoyable leisure time activities.

Take some time to educate yourself about trauma, PTSD and recovery and healing. Learning about what your spouse may be going through will help you and your family to understand better and be more supportive. Remember to take care of your own physical and mental health as well. More

Why do some people get PTSD after a traumatic event and others don't?

Studies have found that in fact most people recover and do not develop PTSD after exposure to a major traumatic event. However some people find themselves feeling worse as time passes and experience the symptoms of PTSD. Several factors before and after a traumatic event seem to increase the likelihood of PTSD. For example, the risk is greater when the traumatic event is more severe, violent, occurs over a longer period of time or involves harm to oneself or loss of a loved one. Being around reminders of the traumatic event can also increase the risk. In general women are more likely than men and younger people more likely than older to experience PTSD. People who had early childhood emotional problems, especially exposure to traumatic events, are more susceptible, as are people who suffer from chronic medical or psychiatric illness. More

What's the difference between a normal reaction to a traumatic event and PTSD?

People react to experience of trauma in a variety of ways, such as sadness, irritability and confusion. In the immediate aftermath of a major traumatic event most people complain of stress, difficulty concentrating, sleeping or getting along with others. With PTSD, the troubling symptoms worsen, affect social and work functioning, and persist longer than a month. If you or a loved one are struggling to cope with the effects of a trauma it would be useful to seek professional help. More

How can I find out more about different types of therapies and treatments for PTSD?

Several effective treatment options are available including psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR); and medications, such as the antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Often the combination of medication and psychotherapy is more effective than either form of treatment alone.

A good overview of effective treatment options for PTSD is available from the National Center for PTSD in the publication “Understanding PTSD Treatment.” Specific treatment guidelines are available from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Information on treatment for children is available from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Self-help tools, including PTSD Coach Online and PTSD Coach app, are available from the National Center for PTSD. These offer support for coping with sadness, anxiety and other symptoms that people who have been through trauma can develop. They can help you relax when you feel stressed, improve your mood, learn how to tackle difficult problems and help change thinking patterns. More

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About the Expert:

Spencer Eth, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry, University Miami School of Medicine
Psychiatrist with Miami VA Healthcare System

Jared’s Story

Jared was a 36-year old married veteran who had returned from Afghanistan, where he had served as an officer. He went to the Veterans Affairs outpatient mental health clinic complaining of having “a short fuse” and being “easily triggered.”

Jared's symptoms involved out-of-control rage when startled, constant thoughts and memories of death-related events, weekly vivid nightmares of combat that caused trouble sleeping, anxiety and a loss of interest in hobbies he once enjoyed with friends.

Read More

Editor's Choice

DEC 19, 2018

Why first resonders aren't getting help for their PTSD

WHAS11.com

First responders often struggle in silence because of the stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder. The WHAS11 team has spoken to dozens of first responders over the past few weeks on the important topic of PTSD. They all have said the exact same thing: there is a stigma that keeps them from getting much-needed help.

DEC 12, 2018

The Most Common PTSD Triggers--and How to Manage Them

Health.com

Loud noises, large crowds, and other PTSD triggers can make you feel like you're reliving your trauma. When you hear post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, your first thought probably goes to war veterans. But today, the mental health condition is recognized in survivors of non-battle trauma as well. Those traumatic experiences primarily include disaster events–like mass shootings, bombings, the attacks on September 11–and serving as a first responder in these types of incidents. Victims of sexual  assault can also experience symptoms of PTSD, says psychiatrist Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, chief of psychiatry at Medstar Washington Hospital Center.

NOV 27, 2018

Meditation may help ease veterans' PTSD symptoms

Reuters

Some veterans may experience a sharper decline in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with meditation-based therapy than with other forms of treatment, a recent study suggests. Researchers randomly assigned 203 veterans with PTSD related to active military service to receive 12 weekly sessions of treatments based on meditation, or 12 weeks of sessions involving exposure to trauma, or to a control group that received only mental health education.

Resources

National Center for PTSD

Make the Connections (Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

Mental Health American (MHA)

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH)

Wounded Warrior Project

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

PTSD Alliance

Physician Reviewed

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
January 2017