When Does PTSD Go Away—Or Does It?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that arises out of a traumatic event and can affect an individual’s mental and physical health, relationships, and ability to function. If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD, you may be wondering when—or whether—PTSD goes away.
Below, we’re discussing the duration of PTSD, whether symptoms go away on their own, and how you can facilitate the healing process.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition arising out of a traumatic event and characterized by anxiety symptoms, intrusive thoughts and memories, and significant behavioral changes. Individuals can develop PTSD through a single traumatic event or repeated events. People with PTSD may also experience feelings of intense distress when triggered by certain stimuli, potentially leading to panic attacks. Physical symptoms—such as difficulty with sleep, increased heart rate, and other stress-related responses—are also common.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a chronic and severe disorder. Examples of sudden and unexpected events that can cause PTSD are natural disasters, wars, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, the death of a loved one, or witnessing someone else experiencing trauma.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), texting “START” to 88788, or chatting with a representative.
Someone with PTSD may experience the physical and emotional effects of a traumatic event as if these events are still happening. PTSD can cause ongoing episodes in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, dissociative episodes, and extreme anxiety. When comparing acute stress disorder and PTSD, the main difference between these two anxiety-related disorders is that post-traumatic stress disorder is a chronic mental health condition that can last a lifetime. Acute stress disorder is normally limited to one episode and doesn't have any lasting or chronic effects.
PTSD symptoms affect different people in different ways depending on who they are, what traumatic events they've been through, and how they are approaching treatment. With treatment from mental health professionals, most people with PTSD learn to manage their symptoms, continue the journey of healing trauma, and live happy lives. For others, PTSD does go away, but there's no easy answer as to when. Professional treatment takes time.
What causes PTSD?
Unlike anxiety and depression, however, post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Instead, PTSD occurs as a result of trauma. It used to be believed that only combat veterans suffered from PTSD. While many combat veterans do get PTSD, we now know that people can get PTSD as a result of other life events. Examples include violent crime, abusive relationships, and even traffic collisions.
The effects of PTSD
PTSD can cause concerning re-experiencing symptoms, including flashbacks and nightmares, along with severe anxiety. People living with PTSD may have difficulty meeting their commitments and maintaining healthy relationships. Avoidance is common in individuals with PTSD. This can cause many people to isolate, which may worsen mental health concerns. The mental, physical, and emotional challenges of PTSD can also lead to thoughts of suicide.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling or texting 988 or chatting with a representative.
PTSD can also lead individuals to self-medicate. For example, some people with PTSD may use substances as a coping mechanism for feelings of anxiety. However, this can exacerbate the incidence and severity of PTSD symptoms over the long term.
How is PTSD treated?
Depending on symptom severity and individual circumstances, PTSD treatment may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. The medications used for PTSD are generally similar to those used to treat anxiety and depression. Depending on the nature and severity of the condition and the preferences of the patient, they may get a prescription for "rescue medication" that can be taken in response to symptoms like panic attacks, instead of being taken regularly.
The goal of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, for PTSD, at least initially, is less about curing PTSD and more about managing its symptoms. The therapist or counselor may begin by identifying symptoms like anxiety attacks or depressive episodes. Then, they may focus on how to manage these symptoms using certain coping strategies. A common treatment to help heal trauma is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Behavioral therapy, which is common for many anxiety and mood disorders, is another proven method of facilitating recovery from trauma.
Some people with PTSD may choose group therapy as opposed to individual counseling. This can be a helpful way for an individual to come to terms with their mental health disorder as well as to learn practical coping and recovery methods from other people with the condition. Some people may "graduate" from one-on-one counseling to group therapy as they learn to manage their symptoms. This type of therapy is sometimes free—offered through community groups and other organizations—though it can also be provided through clinics and hospitals.
Does PTSD go away?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD involves concerning thoughts and emotions that persist “long after” the traumatic event has ended. But how long, exactly, do they last? And do the intrusive thoughts and distressing feelings eventually go away?
Whether PTSD will go away—and if so, when—depends on several factors, including the severity of symptoms, an individual’s lifestyle and personal history, and the existence of any comorbid mental health concerns. A primary consideration when it comes to the duration of symptoms is whether the individual seeks treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health confirms that recovery times vary: “Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last for 1 year or longer”.
Recovery time may also depend on the nature of the trauma that brought on their PTSD. People who suffered traumatic events such as traffic collisions may develop symptoms similar to phobias and be treated through exposure therapy or similar methods. These individuals may be able to overcome their most severe symptoms fairly quickly, partially because they are likely exposed to their triggers regularly just by going about their usual routines.
People who have survived abuse or combat often have different symptoms and recovery rates. They may develop symptoms similar to anxiety and depression, for example. It could take months or years of treatment before the worst of their symptoms go away or to learn to manage them effectively. Some believe that PTSD doesn't "go away" so much as go "into remission". For some people, PTSD can recur months or years after passing.
Another reason that it can be difficult to tell whether PTSD is gone completely is that sometimes symptoms from trauma can go away for extended periods before returning, sometimes because of a triggering event and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. As a result, it can be important for people who have or have had PTSD to be open about it with people close to them and with their healthcare team.
Finding care for PTSD
PTSD symptoms can sometimes present a barrier to traditional therapy such as in-person counseling. Those with the condition may fear going out in public and encountering a trigger, for instance. They may feel more comfortable receiving mental health services remotely.
Research suggests that online therapy is an effective treatment modality for post-traumatic stress disorder. In a recent meta-analysis of studies, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been associated with positive outcomes for individuals with PTSD. CBT is a widely utilized therapeutic modality focused on helping individuals reframe unhelpful thought processes, such as those that may be related to trauma.
If you’d like to learn more about PTSD and receive the support and guidance of a professional, help is available. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can participate in sessions remotely, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing topics like trauma in person. Online therapy is also an affordable option—BetterHelp starts at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime.
Do you ever fully recover from PTSD?
The recovery path for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can look very different from one person to the next depending on the trauma that caused it and any co-occurring mental health conditions the person may be experiencing. For example, someone who developed PTSD after a traffic collision may recover more quickly than someone who developed it from war because they’ll be exposed to their triggers more frequently, which may allow them to work through them sooner with the help of a therapist.
In addition, someone who lives with depression or anxiety as well may find that symptoms of these conditions exacerbate each other or overlap, making it harder to isolate progress markers. Finally, it seems in some cases that people with PTSD may go into ‘remission’ with their illness rather than being ‘cured’ of it, meaning that they’ll need to learn over time healthier coping mechanisms that work for them to maintain their mental health and manage any symptoms.
How do I get out of a PTSD episode?
The US Department of Veterans Affairs lists coping mechanisms that someone who has experienced trauma and may have a PTSD diagnosis can use to manage difficult symptoms in the moment. For example, when unwanted, distressing, negative thoughts or memories arise, you might remind yourself that they’re just memories, that it’s natural to have them, and that they’ll likely lessen over time. Or, when the body responds to a memory with tension, engaging in relaxation methods like stretching, meditating, exercising, listening to music, or spending time in nature could help.
Is PTSD a lifelong condition?
The course of PTSD depends on many factors, such as the trauma experienced, how long the trauma lasted, and the person’s overall mental health status. In some cases, it’s thought to go into ‘remission’ rather than being ‘cured.’ In remission, symptoms will likely come up less frequently and may be easier to manage as the person learns healthy coping mechanisms that work for them.
How long does it take for PTSD to go away?
The duration of an illness like PTSD can vary widely depending on many factors. One is the type of trauma the person experienced and how often they’ll face direct triggers, and another is the support they receive and how well they’re able to cultivate effective coping strategies for their symptoms. Note that PTSD symptoms are unlikely to decrease or resolve without treatment, which usually consists of some form of therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, sensorimotor therapy, or psychodynamic psychotherapy to help ‘rewire’ the patient’s brain and help them think differently about the trauma), sometimes in combination with medication and usually in combination with healthy lifestyle changes.
What are the four phases of PTSD?
The four phases of PTSD are:
- Impact, the days, weeks, or months immediately following the event
- Rescue, the period during which people assess the damage done and come to face the effects of the event
- Recovery, or the “prolonged period of adjustment or return to equilibrium”
- Reconstruction, a period of rebuilding and healing
What are the 17 symptoms of PTSD?
According to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are 20 diagnosable symptoms of PTSD. Some examples include an increased startle response, avoidance behaviors, recurrent and involuntary memories of the event that cause distress, persistent negative emotional state, hypervigilance, and engagement in risky behaviors.
Is PTSD a disabling mental illness?
PTSD can affect people to different degrees depending on a number of factors. If symptoms significantly interfere with daily life, PTSD can qualify as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
What does a PTSD episode feel like?
The stress response of PTSD in the moment can feel very frightening. The individual might experience symptoms like muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, a racing heart, and fear that they’re going to die.
What foods should you avoid with PTSD?
Eating nutritious foods and avoiding certain others is an example of a lifestyle change that may benefit people living with PTSD. Some that it may be helpful to avoid include processed foods and foods high in saturated fat or sugar as well as alcohol and caffeine.
Can PTSD turn into schizophrenia?
Research suggests that the experience of trauma, which can cause PTSD, also increases one’s risk for developing schizophrenia, which means that someone with the former could be at increased risk for the latter. Misdiagnosis between the two (particularly when the PTSD manifests as psychosis) is also not uncommon due to the overlap of certain symptoms.
- Previous Article
- Next Article