PTSD Signs & Symptoms

Trauma & PTSD can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

After a young person or adult experiences, witnesses, or learns about a trauma and is unable to cope with said trauma in a healthy way that does not adversely impact his or her life, it is likely that that individual is grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Commonly referred to as PTSD, this mental illness occurs in response to a trauma and can be experienced long after the trauma initially occurred. Symptoms of this condition can be extremely intrusive and prevent a person from functioning in a number of settings. Youth with this illness will often have a hard time performing well in school or sustaining close relationships with peers. Adults battling the symptoms of PTSD may be unable to work and could come to abuse drugs and/or alcohol if coping skills are not developed enough to emotionally process trauma.

Exposure to war or ongoing violence, surviving natural or man-made disasters, being the victim of abuse or crime, or having a close loved one suddenly pass away are examples of traumas that can eventually bring about PTSD symptoms. As soon as the symptoms of this condition become apparent, it is imperative that treatment be sough and started as soon as possible. By engaging in treatment, those battling posttraumatic stress disorder can avoid detrimental effects and regain control over their lives.


PTSD statistics

Research that examined the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Americans concluded that more women are affected by this illness than men, with ten percent of women experiencing symptoms of this condition after a trauma compared to five percent of men. Generally speaking, it was also found that five million young people and adults alike battle this disorder in the United States. Lastly, it is speculated that rates of this disorder are higher as a number of cases go unreported each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

Even though the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by a traumatic event, there are a few outlying factors that can make an individual vulnerable to the development of this devastating mental illness. The following concepts are those that are agreed upon by experts in the field of mental health:

Genetic: Possessing a genetic predisposition to certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, can cause a person to be more susceptible to developing PTSD after a trauma occurs. This finding is supported by research such that it was found that those with a family history of anxiety had higher prevalence rates of PTSD when compared to those who developed posttraumatic stress disorder after a trauma but did not have a history of anxiety.

Environmental: Since post-traumatic stress disorder is directly caused by a trauma, a person’s environment greatly determines whether or not an individual with develop this mental illness. Especially if a person is a victim of crime, abuse, or neglect or resides in a place in which violence and chaos is ongoing, there is a high likelihood that PTSD will develop after an individual endures a trauma.

Risk Factors:

  • Having an inadequate support system
  • Lack of appropriate, effective, and healthy coping skills
  • Exposure to trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, or chronic stress
  • Being female
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Possessing a preexisting anxiety disorder or other mental health condition(s)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

The apparentness of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are reliant on several factors. The severity of the trauma that led to the onset of symptoms, the age of the sufferer, and the sufferer’s ability to cope with said trauma can impact how obvious symptoms are and the severity of the symptoms present. Broken down into avoidance, re-experiencing, and hyperarousal symptoms, the following symptoms are those that suggest a person is battling PTSD:

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Avoiding people, places, or situation that are reminiscent of the trauma
  • Feeling detached from the world around
  • Declined interest in things or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Inability to remember details about the trauma

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Terrifying nightmares
  • Flashbacks that make an individual feel as if the trauma is happening again
  • Intrusive memories about the trauma
  • Physiological reactions when reminded of the trauma, such as sweating, labored breathing, increased heart rate

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Having an exaggerated startle response
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to sleep
  • Feeling on edge
  • Ongoing concerns about impending danger
  • Experiencing angry or emotional outbursts


Effects of PTSD

Untreated PTSD can cause the inception of a number of adverse consequences if treatment is not sought and implemented when symptoms of this disorder become apparent. Depending on the trauma that was experienced, witnessed, or learned about and the severity of symptoms occurring, the following effects have the potential to occur:

  • Discord among family members and loved ones
  • Decline in quantity and quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Chronic pain
  • Substance use or abuse, which could lead to addiction and dependence
  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Loss of employment
  • Hindered academic performances
  • Academic failure
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Development of an additional mental health condition(s)
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

The debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are known to trigger the onset of symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions. This notion is especially true if an individual possesses a genetic predisposition to other mental illnesses. The following disorders are those that are known to occur alongside PTSD and could require their own therapeutic intervention should a person seek help from a professional:

  • Panic disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

The kind, warm, individualized treatment that I received at Harbor Oaks Hospital fostered a safe environment for me to open up, talk about my fears, and face them head on. I am now able to manage my PTSD symptoms in a healthy way.

– Former Patient
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