An Overview of PTSD

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and greatly misunderstood condition. There is a high degree of stigma, controversy, and mystery attached to this condition, which is why it was only in 1980 that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) recognized PTSD as a disorder. Although progress has been made since its recognition as a disorder, PTSD is still controversial in many spaces, and scientists and patients alike struggle with miseducation and dismantling stigma.

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PTSD can develop in a person if they are subject to a “catastrophic stressor,” or exposure to an upsetting, traumatic event. Exposure can mean that the individual is directly experiencing the event, or it can mean witnessing a traumatic event happening to others or learning that a traumatic event happened to a close family member or friend. The stressor is usually followed by experiences of intrusive thoughts, numbness, and panic, though each person will experience it differently.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

As mentioned above, PTSD symptoms vary from person to person, but they are generally grouped into four categories:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of the catastrophic stressor, or they can appear years later.

A formal diagnosis of PTSD is made when symptoms last for more than a month and cause significant distress, barriers, and problems in the individual’s daily functioning. Additionally, PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems, and other physical and mental health problems.


PTSD does not develop the same way for everyone, so treatments will also differ. Some traumatic experiences do not lead to PTSD, and some that develop PTSD have symptoms that subside or disappear over time.

Among those who do develop PTSD, there are various treatment pathways. Professional treatment is one option to help patients recover from intense and/or disabling psychological distress. To achieve this, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals might use various effective and research-proven methods, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Additionally, medication can help to control the symptoms of PTSD or provide symptom relief that allows many people to participate more effectively in psychotherapy.

It’s important for those receiving treatment to follow their treatment plan diligently. It can sometimes take time for individuals to feel the benefit from therapy or medication, but a majority of individuals recover. Outside of professional treatment, there are other things that those affected by PTSD can do to help support their recovery. This can include getting sufficient rest, exercising regularly, and staying connected with supportive family or friends. Support groups are also a great resource for people living with PTSD.