What is post-traumatic stress?

Not All Wounds Are Visible
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health disorder that Veterans can develop after experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events like combat, natural disasters, sexual assault, or other traumatic events.

When we experience or witness events like these, it is normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. Although some people can start to feel better after a few weeks or months, if it's been longer than a few months and someone is still having symptoms, they may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start immediately, much later, or they may come and go over time.
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event; however, it is also possible that they do not appear until months or even years later. These symptoms may also come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.  

Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms
There are four common symptoms of PTSD, but they may not be the same for everyone. Each person experiences signs in their own way although usually present in the following ways:


  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing) - you may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you're going through the event again, this is called a flashback.


  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event - you may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.


  • Sticking to negative beliefs and feelings - the way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel guilt or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. You may think that the world is dangerous and you can't trust anyone. You might be numb, or find it hard to feel happy


  • Feeling keyed up (also called hypervigilant) - you may be jittery or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. You might suddenly get angry or irritable, startle easily, or act in unhealthy ways (like smoking, using drugs and alcohol, or driving recklessly).

PTSD can happen to anyone, and it is no sign of weakness. Some factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under our control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat or sexual assault.
Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can also affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.
Veterans with PTSD may also have other difficult feelings. They may include:


  • Hopelessness or Shame

  • Despair, Depression, or Anxiety

  • Drinking or Drug Problems

  • Physical Symptoms or Chronic pain

  • Employment Troubles

  • Relationship Problems, Including Divorce

In many cases, treatments for PTSD will also help these other issues, because they are often related. The coping skills you learn in treatment can work for PTSD and these associated problems.
Will people with post-traumatic stress disorder get better?  
"Getting better" means different things to different people. There are many different treatment options for PTSD. For many people, these treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense. Your symptoms don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.
National Center for PTSD