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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a "mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event - either experiencing it or witnessing it." PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares/night terrors, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event.

PTSD can develop when a person goes through, sees, or learns about an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. People of any age can develop PTSD, yet there are risk factors that may make a person more likely to develop it. These factors include experiencing intense or long lasting trauma, such as combat eposure; having experienced trauma earlier in life, such as childhood neglect or abuse; having a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events, such as first responders or being in the military; having other mental health problems, such as depression; and/or lacking a good support system. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event develops PTSD. However, if you develop symptoms that get worse or last for months (and sometimes years) and if the symptoms interfere with your daily functioning, we encourage you to visit your doctor right away.

At this time, doctors are not sure why some people develop PTSD, while others do not. As with other mental health issues, PTSD may be caused by a mix of inherited mental health risks, life experiences, inherited aspects of a person's personality (or temperament), and/or the way the brain regulates the chemicals and hormones that the body releases in response to stress. There are a variety of treatments that can help people with PTSD regain a sense of control over their life. Cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy are just a few of the types of treatments that can help. Speak to your doctor to find the type or types of treatment that best work for you.

The National Center for PTSD provides research and education on the prevention, understanding and treatment of PTSD. Although the center is a part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the center's seven divisions across the country do not direct clinical care, but do provide expertise on all types of trauma. The Center has created a program called AboutFace, an online video gallery of Veterans about PTSD and their treatment, to let people know they are not alone and to encourage them to seek effective treatment.

If you feel that you may have PTSD, we urge you to contact your primary care physician or psychologist/psychiatrist right away. If you are a member of the military, a veteran, or a family member of a serviceperson or veteran and are looking for resources, please visit our Military and Veteran Resources page. If you are looking for mental health resources, please visit our page on Mental Health. You can also contact one of our information specialists by calling 800/3462742, via email, or chat.