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What is PTSD?

PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder which occurs in people who have trouble recovering after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic, scary, dangerous, event such as a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, sexual assault, a serious injury and much more.

It was first known in terms like “shell-shock” or “combat fatigue” after World War I as soldiers felt extreme stress and fear constantly and were overall unwell. PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people, of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and at any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. Three ethnic groups – U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians – are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD.

People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.

They can have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. They may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.


  • Reliving the traumatic events through flashbacks, nightmares, physical pain, sweating, nausea

  • Extreme alertness and feeling on edge

  • Panicking when reminded of the trauma

  • Extreme lack or trouble sleeping

  • Avoidance of memories by keeping busy

  • trying to completely forget important details of event

  • being emotionally or physically numb

  • Feeling like no one or nowhere is safe

What is the difference between C-PTSD and PTSD?

C-PTSD, or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder similar to PTSD with similar symptoms, however, these symptoms can be more severe, more versatile, and are caused by not just one traumatic event but a series or a continuation of multiple experiences or witnesses. C-PTSD is caused by long-lasting trauma that continues or repeats for months, even years.

The psychological and developmental impacts of complex trauma early in life are often more severe than a single traumatic experience—so different, in fact, that there are mental health professionals who do recognize C-PTSD as a separate condition because the traditional symptoms of PTSD do not fully capture some of the unique characteristics shown in people who experienced repeat trauma.

Warning signs of C-PTSD are similar to PTSD, but they can also include:

  • Intense feelings of distrust towards the world

  • Constantly feeling hopeless and helpless

  • Difficulty controlling all emotions, not just anger

  • Feeling like you are different than everyone else

  • Avoiding forming relationships and friendships

  • Experiencing dissociation symptoms (amnesia, emotionless, blurred sense of identity)

  • Having frequent suicidal thoughts

PTSD in Women:

Research indicates that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma.

While PTSD can happen to anyone, statistics show that there is a significant gender difference in the prevalence of PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, around 10% of women have PTSD sometime in their lives compared to 4% of men. On average, it takes 4 years for women versus 1 year for men to be diagnosed and obtain appropriate treatment. Women with PTSD are more likely than men with PTSD to have been physically or sexually attacked; among women who are raped, about 50% develop PTSD. About 1 woman in 10 will develop PTSD at some point in her lifetime.

Although women are at greater risk for negative consequences following traumatic events, many often hesitate to seek mental health treatment. Survivors often wait years to receive help, while others never receive treatment at all.

Women experiencing PTSD are more likely to have these symptoms:

  • Become easily startled

  • Have more trouble feeling emotions, experience numbness

  • Avoid trauma reminders

  • Experience depression and anxiousness


It is important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, and not everyone who develops PTSD requires psychiatric treatment. For some people, symptoms of PTSD subside or disappear over time. Others get better with the help of their support system (family, friends or clergy). But many people with PTSD need professional treatment to recover from psychological distress that can be intense and disabling. It is important to remember that trauma may lead to severe distress. That distress is not the individual’s fault, and PTSD is treatable.

Different Types of Therapy:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy

    • focuses on modifying painful negative emotions (such as shame, guilt, etc.) and beliefs (such as “I have failed”; “the world is dangerous”) due to the trauma.

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy

    • uses repeated, detailed imagining of the trauma or progressive exposures to symptom “triggers” in a safe, controlled way to help a person face and gain control of fear and distress and learn to cope

  • Stress Inoculation Therapy

    • aims to arm the individual with the necessary coping skills to successfully defend against stressful triggers through the exposure of milder levels of stress

  • Group therapy

  • Medication


Written and Researched by LAKSHMI POTTURU


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