Causes & Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Understanding PTSD

Learn about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after an individual experiences one or more traumatic events. PTSD is common in those who have served in the military, been affected by a natural disaster, suffered frightening injuries, or witnessed abuse, to name a few of many possible causes. This disorder can also develop in someone who has learned about events without having them occur to him or her directly.

PTSD can cause a variety of distressing symptoms, including invasive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, and hypervigilance. Each of these symptoms can be painful to experience and can complicate a person’s ability to live a healthy and satisfying life. Thankfully, PTSD is a treatable disorder.


Statistics about PTSD

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that about 8% of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at one point in their lives. In addition, the VA reports the following statistics regarding PTSD:

  • About 6 out of every 10 men and 5 out of every 10 women experience trauma in their lives
  • Women are more likely to experience trauma related to sexual abuse
  • Men are more likely to experience trauma related to combat, disaster, or physical assault
  • As many as 20% of U.S. military veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom experienced PTSD

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for PTSD

PTSD cannot develop without one or more traumatic events occurring. However, there are additional factors that can aid in the development of this disorder, including the following:

  • Having a first-degree relative with a mental illness
  • Experiencing poverty or other disadvantages as a child
  • Being of racial or ethnic minority
  • Gender (females are more likely to develop PTSD)
  • History of violence
  • Lack of social support
  • Poor coping abilities
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The signs and symptoms of PSTD are commonly grouped into the following three categories:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Elevated physiological responses, including difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, and sweating
  • Flashbacks, or strong dissociative reactions that cause a person to feel as though he or she is in the midst of the traumatic experience.
  • Nightmares or intense, disturbing dreams
  • Involuntary, intrusive, or distressing memories of the trauma

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Difficulty feeling, or inability to feel, positive emotions
  • Difficulty remembering details about the traumatic experience
  • Attempting to not think about thoughts, memories, or feelings associated with the traumatic event
  • Feeling detached from life or hopeless about the future
  • Intentionally staying away from people, places, situations, or conversations that remind a person of the trauma

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or self-destructive behaviors
  • Excessive alertness to one’s environment (“hypervigilance”)
  • Angry outbursts
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Jumpiness
  • Irritability

Lasting Effects

Effects of PTSD

If PTSD is left untreated, the symptoms that one can experience can cause the following effects:

  • Substance abuse
  • Poor work performance
  • Loss of employment
  • Relationship problems
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Suicide
  • Family relational distress
  • Additional mental disorders
  • Violence and reckless activity

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse or Mental Health Issues

When PTSD is present, it is possible for other mental illnesses to co-occur alongside of it. Some of the most common mental illnesses to co-occur with PTSD can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major neurocognitive disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Substance use disorder
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