The mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing or witnessing a horrific and terrifying event. Statistics show that 70% of Americans have experienced such a traumatic event at least once, and out of these, 20% develop PTSD. Today, that amounts to about 45.5 billion people.
The symptoms of PTSD tend to manifest within the first month after experiencing a traumatic event, but for some individuals, the symptoms could take years to develop. Sufferers experience a range of symptoms that can are generally categorized below.
PTSD sufferers can have recurring memories, causing them to re-experience the trauma by reliving the event. These can appear while awake or in nightmares, evoking strong feelings of distress after being reminded of the traumatic event.
PTSD can lead to avoidance behaviors and emotional numbing. Sufferers may feel the need to avoid certain places, people and activities that remind them of the traumatizing event or avoid even thinking about it.
PTSD tends to cause various changes in mood and thinking. Suffers can start thinking negatively about themselves or others. They can also feel hopeless and detached from others, leading to a failure to maintain healthy and close relationships.
Reactions to physical and emotional stimuli can be affected by PTSD. These changes can include being easily frightened or startled, always feeling in danger, losing the ability to sleep soundly, having trouble concentrating or feeling guilt and shame.
PTSD can lead to other mental health problems such as phobias, anxiety, and depression, as well as substance abuse problems like drug abuse and alcoholism. PTSD can also cause physical symptoms and illnesses like headaches, chest pains, stomach aches, and dizziness.
As with the symptoms, the particular kinds of events that can cause PTSD to vary widely. When we think about PTSD, we tend to think of terrible wartime events endured by active-duty military. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), about 15% of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD in their lifetimes, and 12% of Gulf War veterans and 11-20% of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans have PTSD in any given year.
Other causes include physical assaults, such as sexual assault, robbery or mugging, or witnessing such a crime. A traumatic birth can cause PTSD for the mother. Domestic terrorist attacks are a growing cause of PTSD. Living through a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane can cause PTSD. Being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition can itself be a traumatic experience.
Can you get PTSD from a car accident? Absolutely. A serious road accident can very easily cause PTSD. Even though this is common, it’s poorly understood. That means sufferers may not get the treatment they need, causing additional stress that can compound the primary symptoms of PTSD.
Whatever the specific cause, it’s usually an acute terrifying event and not just a negative experience. Emotionally upsetting situations like divorce, financial distress, job loss or poor academic performance don’t usually lead to PTSD.