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Recognizing the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


*Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance abuse, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. The article below is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.

Living through a traumatic event once is difficult enough. But some people, having survived, relive it again and again and suffer its effects long after the real danger has passed. Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with combat veterans, but any survivor of a natural disaster, physical abuse or other traumatic event may suffer from PTSD. If you’ve experienced an extremely frightening event and the effects are still with you, you may have PTSD. The good news is that it’s treatable.

This article is designed to help you recognize and get help for this disorder for yourself or someone else, and to find out more about the causes, symptoms and many available treatment options.

Post-traumatic stress disorder risk factors

Although there’s no way to know who will or won’t experience PTSD, several factors play a role: individual personality, severity of the event, proximity to the event or the people involved, duration of the trauma and the amount of support the person receives afterward. Remember that only a small percentage of people who live through a traumatic event actually develop PTSD. You may be at higher risk if you:

  • Were directly involved in the traumatic event.
  • Were injured or had a near-death experience.
  • Survived an especially long-lasting or severe traumatic event.
  • Truly believed your life or that of someone around you was in danger.
  • Had a strong emotional or physical reaction during the event.
  • Received little or no support following the event.
  • Have multiple other sources of stress in your life.

Recognizing the symptoms

Treating post-traumatic stress disorder begins with recognizing that you actually have it, as opposed to a “normal” stress reaction. Just as individual reactions to trauma vary, PTSD symptoms also differ somewhat from person to person. You may notice symptoms immediately after a traumatic situation, or they may appear weeks, months or even years later. Although the symptoms of a “normal” stress reaction can resemble those of PTSD, true PTSD symptoms continue for a prolonged period of time and often interfere with typical daily routines and commitments.

There are different types of PTSD symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing trauma - PTSD frequently includes “flashbacks,” or moments in which the person “relives” the initial traumatic event or re-experiences the intense feelings of fear that surrounded it. Flashbacks usually result from some “trigger” that reminds the PTSD sufferer of the traumatic event he or she survived. A combat veteran with PTSD may experience a flashback after hearing a car backfire or another loud noise that resembles gunfire. Survivors of a natural disaster may have a flashback after seeing video of a tornado or earthquake. Combat veterans with PTSD frequently report having repeated troubled dreams of the event.
  • Avoidance/numbness - As a result of flashbacks or other negative feelings, you may find yourself avoiding conversations or situations that may remind you of the frightening event that you survived. You may find that you’re distancing yourself from people or activities you once enjoyed or feel incapable of experiencing emotion at all, either positive or negative. Some individuals with PTSD are unable to remember a significant part of the trauma. Others feel they have no future to look forward to.
  • Hyper-arousal - Feeling constantly on edge or irritable and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating are all possible signs of PTSD. Seemingly irrelevant circumstances might trigger an angry outburst. These symptoms often stem from other causes, but in PTSD sufferers they may last longer or appear following a trigger.

Children can also suffer from PTSD. In children, PTSD symptoms may differ from those seen in adults. These may include trouble sleeping, acting out or regression in toilet training, speech or behavior. Parents of children with PTSD may notice that the children’s artwork or pretend play involves dark or violent themes or details. If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, check out the treatment options listed below.

Treatment options

Even suspecting you have PTSD is reason enough to get a professional opinion, especially when free help is available around the clock to service members and their families. If you’re not sure who to talk to, start with any of the following:

  • TRICARE - log onto the TRICARE website and input your information to find military treatment facilities or covered services near you.
  • Your healthcare provider
  • Your local VA hospital
  • A mental health professional - all Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 for a referral to medical counseling services in your community
  • Chaplain or religious leader

If you have PTSD, remember that you’re not alone. Many other service members and civilians alike have been through similar things. A wide range of effective treatment options, from cognitive processing and prolonged exposure therapy to mindfulness practice and medication, is available. With your healthcare provider, you can develop an effective treatment plan to help you manage and alleviate your symptoms.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your PTSD will resolve itself. You need to work with a professional who understands your situation and can help you work through it. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength that helps to protect your loved ones, your career and your mental and physical health. To learn more about PTSD, the symptoms, causes and how you can find the proper help for family members or yourself, visit:

If you ever experience thoughts of suicide, call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.


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