PTSD Awareness Month: Common Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Updated May 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most people will experience a traumatic event or events during the course of their lives. After the trauma, it is natural to feel sad, anxious, fear, or depressed by the ordeal for some time and then the feelings subside. This is the experience for most people. However, for some, trauma has a lasting impact in which these feelings of fear or anxiousness to not go away and are accompanied by other symptoms that seriously affects their everyday lives for days, weeks, or months. When this occurs, the person may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is a serious condition often stemming from invisible wounds, there is hope for recovery with treatment.

Approximately 1 out of 6 people in the United States will have post-traumatic stress disorder at some point during their lives.  Additionally, 5% of adults in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year with the most recent number of those managing it totaling 13 million people, In honor of these numbers, it is important to increase awareness and support for the millions living with PTSD today. 

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month – a time to be more conscious of the disorder and its associated symptoms, as well as help to raise PTSD awareness in others. In honor of increasing awareness about this predominant trauma-related stress order, this article delineates the definition of PTSD, prevalence statistics, diagnosis, and treatment option for those managing it. 

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder caused by a distressing situation, event, or experience. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as: “People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended.”

A person may witness the event or go through it themselves. Some people who experience trauma can cope and heal with time, especially with the assistance of a trained mental health professional. However, when someone cannot move past the event, or it becomes difficult to get through the day, they may have PTSD. 

Who Experiences It?

In the past, PTSD was a condition considered to be experienced mostly by soldiers and other war veterans. Now, it is clear that anyone can develop it at any age or life stage – not just veterans, but civilian survivors of traumatic events, as well. According to the National Center for PTSD, 7 or 8 people out of every 100 will experience PTSD symptoms at some time during their life. The National Center for PTSD has also found that “about 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives.”

Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event or series of traumatic events will get PTSD because of it. This may because extremely stressful events can be identified as trauma. However, the type of trauma that leads to PTSD typically is so intense that you believe you or the lives of others is in danger. There are several other reasons why most people are able to cope and move forward with time. Those who seek support from friends and family, see a therapist, and have positive coping strategies are more likely to recover faster.

What Causes It?

Be advised that the following contains potential triggering material for sensitive individuals.

PTSD can be caused by a wide variety of events and experiences. Two people who go through the same situation may still react differently. Sometimes events occur that may result in one person developing PTSD, while the other does not. Some different potential causes of PTSD could include:

  • Experiencing trauma

  • history of mental health conditions or substance use disorder

  • Serious accidents

  • Physical or sexual assault and rape

  • Any kind of abuse, whether verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional

  • Serious health issues

  • Losing a baby in childbirth

  • Going through natural disasters like a tornado or hurricane

  • Exposure to combat or war

  • Being threatened

  • The loss of a loved one, especially in a traumatic or sudden manner

  • Childhood trauma

  • Any other traumatic events

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, reach out immediately to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

As previously stated, just because someone experiences one of the events above does not mean they will necessarily develop PTSD. However, these are some of the most common causes that can contribute to the development of the condition. If you experience a traumatic event or series of them, seek help right away to lower your risk of developing PTSD. 

PTSD Awareness Month

On June 25, 2015, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution to designate June as National PTSD Awareness Month to improve the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Senate resolution, headed by Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia, recognized that PTSD is underreported and undertreated due to stigma and lack of awareness. Since then, June has been known as National PTSD Awareness Month with June 27 being the official National PTSD Awareness Day. Currently, people in the United States dedicate this month to an opportunity to raise awareness for PTSD, reduce stigma, and spread the word that treatment is available. 

Around 8 million people in the United States are currently living with this stress disorder. Even though the PTSD treatments currently available can have promising results, many people still do not seek the help they need. Some may not think that they have PTSD, thinking it is something that only affects war veterans, while some may not feel as though they need help or are afraid to obtain help.

PTSD Awareness Month provides an ample opportunity to spread the word about the signs of PTSD and, more importantly, where to go if you or a loved one may have it. When more people know the treatment options that are available to them, they have a better chance of receiving support and care.

You can pledge to raise awareness, joining in with millions of other people with similar goals and commitments. If you feel you have PTSD, you might consider taking a self-screen test and then reaching out to a professional depending on the results.

Symptoms Of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person. However, some of the most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts or upsetting memories

  • Recurrent dreams of or relating to the event

  • Intense reactions to triggers

  • Having flashbacks of the event

  • Feeling numb or detached

  • Avoiding things that remind you of the trauma

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Persistent negative thoughts

  • Eating too much or too little

  • Irritability

  • Feeling on-edge or anxious

  • Negative thought processes

  • Changes to one’s mood

  • Reckless behavior

  • Feeling guilty, shameful, or to blame

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

  • Withdrawing from loved ones

  • Aggression or angry outbursts

  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7. Additionally, the Veterans Crisis Line is a national helpline for veterans experiencing PTSD and can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 at the main menu).

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is vital to reach out to mental health professional. Only they can give you an accurate diagnosis and provide you with the best next steps. Having some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean someone has PTSD; they could have an entirely different disorder. Be careful not to diagnose yourself or someone else without speaking to a medical professional.

Diagnosing PTSD

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, you may have PTSD if you are still experiencing distressing feelings, thoughts, and/or memories related to a traumatic incident or series of incidents several months after they have occurred. However, to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, you must speak with a medical provider. They will perform a physical exam to rule out any potential health issues causing the symptoms. Then, they will do a psychological evaluation and ask you questions about your past and symptoms. They may want to know more about the specific event that could have caused your distress. Using the DSM-5-TR (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), they will assess your symptoms and evaluate whether you meet the criteria for PTSD. In people over six years of age, these criteria include:

  1. Exposure to a threat like death, serious injury, or sexual violence. You must either directly experience or witness it.

  2. Development of intrusive symptoms after the event occurs. These could include flashbacks, memories, nightmares, and other psychological reactions.

  3. Avoidance of situations, people, or things that remind the person of the traumatic event.

  4. Negative cognitions and moods because of the event.

  5. Noticeable changes in behavior, arousal, or reactivity because of the experience.

  6. Symptoms persist for more than one month.

  7. The event causes clinically significant distress in social, occupational, or other areas of life.

  8. The symptoms are not the result of a medical condition or other disorder.

It may take some time before someone develops PTSD. In some cases, people develop the condition right after the traumatic experience, while for others, symptoms may begin long after the traumatic event has ended. Since everyone will have a different timeline and experience, it’s important to involve professionals from the beginning. PTSD is no joking matter. Research suggests that it is a risk factor for suicide. Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides awareness that treatment of mental health issues can be one way to prevent suicide.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, PTSD is a highly treatable condition. At the very least, those who develop this kind of trauma-related disorder may be able to learn new coping skills to help them live happier, healthier lives. Some common PTSD treatment options that have shown promise for millions of people are:

  • Therapy: Connecting with a qualified mental health professional can make a huge difference in the life of someone with PTSD. Working alongside a therapist, you will be able to come up with new coping mechanisms, skills, and tools for living with and ultimately moving past PTSD. Sometimes specific therapies help the most. These include trauma-focused psychotherapy methods, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP), or Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET). You can discuss your options with your therapist, who should be able to guide you down the path that will be most beneficial for you.

  • Medication: Sometimes, therapy alone is not enough to cure PTSD. Many people find that medication improves their mood, concentration, and overall well-being. Always consult a doctor before starting a new medication, whether it is for PTSD or any other condition.

  • Combination Treatment: Many people rely on medication and therapy to recover from PTSD. You can talk with your medical provider to find what works best.

PTSD treatments work typically by working toward recognizing and addressing the root of the traumatic stress disorder. Medication-based PTSD treatments work by helping to minimize and manage PTSD symptoms. There are a multitude of PTSD medications available, with many others currently undergoing clinical trials to test efficacy and safety.

Though PTSD is not itself classified as an anxiety disorder anymore, there are some similarities between the disorder and anxiety. There is also a high rate of comorbidity of the development of anxiety disorders with PTSD. Many available treatments can address both conditions simultaneously to varying degrees.

Recovering from this condition is not impossible. Untreated PTSD can cause serious psychological harm over time, but many resources exist to help you recover from the events that caused your PTSD. Something different will work for everyone, so it’s essential to find the best, most effective PTSD treatment or PTSD treatment for your situation. Sometimes that means trying different therapy methods, switching therapists, or giving a new type of medication a chance. Further, you can also participate in important events like National Recovery Month to raise awareness. Recovery is possible with the right support, mindset, and endurance. Remember that you are never alone.

Other Helpful Tips

Besides medication and therapy, you can also take care of your health in these ways:

  • Getting enough rest at night

  • Eating healthy meals

  • Exercising regularly

  • Spending time with loved ones

  • Journaling

  • Practicing mindfulness

  • Joining a support group

Your overall well-being is dependent on a variety of factors. By being proactive, you can stay ahead of your health and potentially prevent problems from ever arising.

How To Support Someone With PTSD

You can support someone with PTSD while also maintaining your health and well-being. Although you may not understand the condition or what the person is going through, you can still take certain steps to offer them support. Above all, you can ensure they know they are not alone and that you will be there for them. Here are some tips for helping someone in your life who has PTSD:

  • Ask them how you can help (do not assume).

  • Do not push them to open up with you. Be patient and wait for them to be comfortable enough to talk when they open up, practice compassion, and try not to be judgmental.

  • Be empathetic toward your loved one.

  • Learn about your loved one’s triggers.

  • Listen well when they talk about what they are going through.

  • Learn everything you can about PTSD from trusted, reputable sources.

  • If your loved one lives with you, remove any triggers from your household.

  • Help your loved one get treatment and support.

  • Do not try to fix them.

  • Encourage them to seek therapy.

While supporting someone with PTSD is a noble cause, you do not want to neglect yourself in the process. Remember that you cannot help others if you do not first help yourself. Make sure to take care of your own needs and have people you can lean on for support. You are an important part of your loved one’s life, and they will need you as they recover from PTSD. It may be a long, difficult journey to recovery, but you can help make a difference in their life.

Online Therapy Can Make A Difference

Are you looking for extra support? Online therapy through BetterHelp may be able to make a difference in your life or that of a loved one. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that matches you with a qualified mental health professional.

Whether you are facing PTSD or some other condition, a therapist may be able to help get you to a better place. A current study published in BMC Psychiatry found that internet-based therapy can have long-lasting positive effects on those living with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, and may provide better quality help than some in-person therapy options. Internet-based therapy has proven to be effective for many people and could be worth trying no matter what you might be going through.

Once you sign up on BetterHelp, you will be matched with a therapist with whom you can speak throughout the week. Pick up your cell phone, laptop, tablet, or device to start. You can talk through a chat feature, phone call, or video conference; the choice is yours. Many individuals prefer BetterHelp because of its simplicity and ease of use. It is also a great option for anyone with a busy schedule or someone who hasn’t had luck with traditional therapy in the past. Reach out today to begin your journey with BetterHelp. With time, you can hope to see positive results in multiple areas of your life.

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