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Monthly Spotlight: PTSD

PTSD Awareness

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem. PTSD can only develop after you go through or see a life-threatening event. It's normal to have stress reactions to these types of events, and most people start to feel better after a few weeks. If symptoms last longer than a month and are causing problems in your life, it could be PTSD. Learn about PTSD symptoms and treatments to help you recover. --National Center for PTSD

Both trauma-focused psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling or talk therapy) and medication are proven to treat PTSD. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.

A few trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most highly recommended treatments for PTSD. "Trauma-focused" means that the therapy focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. The 3 most effective types of trauma-focused psychotherapy are:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) is where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. This will help you get more control over your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You also go to places or do safe things, that you have been staying away from because they remind you of the trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories.

There are other talk therapies that are suggested for PTSD, but these do not have as much research support. Other trauma-focused therapies include:

  • Written Exposure Therapy (WET)
    WET helps you find new ways to think about your trauma and its meaning through writing assignments you complete during sessions. This is a brief, 5-session therapy.
  • Cognitive Therapy for PTSD (CT-PTSD)
    CT-PTSD helps you learn to change your thoughts about your trauma. You will revisit the trauma memory to develop meaning for what happened and change negative thoughts.

Another talk therapy with some research support is non-trauma-focused, meaning that you do not need to focus on your traumatic experience(s):

  • Present-Centered Therapy (PCT)
    PCT focuses on learning how to deal with current life problems related to your traumatic experience or PTSD symptoms in ways that are adaptive.

Certain medications can be effective for treating PTSD symptoms. Some specific medications are used to treat PTSD symptoms. These include sertraline, paroxetine and venlafaxine

Information gathered from the National Center for PTSD.

  • Most people who go through a traumatic event will not develop PTSD.
  • About 6 out of every 100 people (or 6% of the U.S. population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • Many people who have PTSD will recover and no longer meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD after treatment. 
  • About 5 out of every 100 adults (or 5%) in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year.
    • In 2020, about 13 million Americans had PTSD.
  • Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.
    • About 8 of every 100 women (or 8%) and 4 of every 100 men (or 4%) will have PTSD at some point in their life.
    • This is in part due to the types of traumatic events that women are more likely to experience—such as sexual assault—compared to men.
  • Veterans are more likely to have PTSD than civilians.
    • Veterans who deployed to a war zone are also more likely to have PTSD than those who did not deploy
  • 7 out of every 100 Veterans (or 7%) will have PTSD.
  •  PTSD is also more common among female Veterans (13 out of 100, or 13%) versus male Veterans (6 out of 100, or 6%).
  • One study found that among Veterans using VA care, 23 out of every 100 (or 23%) had PTSD at some point in their lives
    • compared to 7 out of every 100 (or 7%) of Veterans who do not use VA for health care
  • Of the 6 million Veterans served in fiscal year 2021, about 10 out of every 100 men (or 10%) and 19 out of every 100 women (or 19%) were diagnosed with PTSD.
  • Studies show that about 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys go through at least one trauma.
    • Of those children and teens who have had a trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys develop PTSD.
  • The National Comorbidity Survey Replication- Adolescent Supplement is a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 adolescents aged 13-18
    • Results indicate that 5% of adolescents have met the criteria for PTSD in their lifetime
  • Prevalence is higher for girls than boys (8.0% vs. 2.3%) and increases with age (4)
  • There are currently about 12 million people in the United States with PTSD.
  • Even though PTSD treatments work, most people who have PTSD don't get the help they need.

 Information gathered from the National Center for PTSD


PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause you great distress or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.

There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms. To be diagnosed with PTSD, you need to have each type. That said, everyone experiences symptoms in their own way.

  1. Reliving the event (re-experiencing symptoms)
    1. Nightmares
    2. Flashbacks
    3. Trauma reminder, cue, or trigger (usually through sight, sound, or smell)
  2. Avoiding things that remind you of the event
    1. Avoiding crowds because they seem dangerous
    2. Avoiding daily things (like driving if you were in a car crash)
    3. Keeping busy or avoid getting help so you don't have to think/talk about the event
  3. Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event
    1. Feeling numb/unable to have positive or loving feelings toward others and losing interest in things you used to enjoy
    2. Forgetting parts of the traumatic event or not being able to talk about them
    3. Thoughts that the world is completely dangerous and no one can be trusted
    4. Feeling guilty or ashamed about the event/wishing one could have been done to stop it
  4. Feeling on edge or keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
    1. Hard time sleeping
    2. Hard to concentrate 
    3. Startled by a loud noise or surprise
    4. Acting in unhealthy ways (smoking, abusing drugs/alcohol, or aggressive driving)

 Children may have symptoms like those above or other symptoms. As children get older, their symptoms are more like those of adults. Here are some examples of PTSD symptoms in children and teens:

  • Children under 6 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or act out the trauma in their play.
  • Children ages 7 to 11 may also act out the trauma through play, drawings or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with schoolwork or friends.
  • Children ages 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behavior like substance abuse or running away.

Information gathered from the National Center for PTSD.