From the NFRW Armed Services Committee
By Christine Benedict (NY)
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
PTSD symptoms can start soon after a traumatic event, but in some cases may not appear until months or years later. Symptoms may also come and go through the years. There are four types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not appear the same to everyone.
- Reliving the traumatic event through nightmares, flashbacks, noises or smells that trigger memories of the event.
- Avoiding things that remind you of the event, such as crowds because they feel dangerous or driving because of a car accident.
- Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event in ways that make you feel numb and forget parts of the traumatic event, and becoming unable to talk about them, thinking the world is dangerous, and having feelings of guilt or shame.
- Feeling on edge or on alert to an extreme degree that leads to difficulty sleeping and concentrating, substance abuse, aggressive behavior, or bad reactions to loud noises or surprises.
It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to perform normal daily activities, like going to work and school, or spending time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.
If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
If thoughts and feelings from a life-threatening event are upsetting you or causing problems in your life, you may have PTSD.
Here’s the good news: you can get treatment for PTSD — and it works. For some people, treatment can get rid of PTSD altogether. For others, it can make symptoms less intense. Treatment also gives you the tools to manage symptoms so they don’t keep you from living your life.
Trauma can take many forms. A traumatic event could be something that happened to you, or something you saw happen to someone else. Seeing the effects of a horrible or violent event can also be traumatic — for example, being a first responder after a terrorist attack.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, enroll in VA health care to get mental health support and treatment options from the VA. The department has a support page with resources for a variety of conditions, including the National Center for PTSD. Learn how to enroll in VA health care here.