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What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, describes our bodies’ natural responses to traumatic events. A traumatic event is loosely defined as an event which causes us physical, emotional, or psychological pain, distress or harm. This event is experienced as a threat to one’s safety and stability. After a trauma, our instincts kick in and elicit a series of physiological responses, which, if left untreated or un-interfered with, can actually alter our brain chemistry and our ability to respond differently to events thereafter.


PTSD can be caused by a variety of things, including but not limited to witnessing violence, engaging in military combat, an assault, being a part of a natural disaster or accident, or losing one’s job or moving. Trauma is subjective and what one person may experience as traumatic, another may not.

It is speculated that when faced with overwhelming trauma, our mind is unable to process information and feelings in a normal way. Thus, after a traumatic event is experienced, our brain’s ability to react properly to other events (which likely remind us of the traumatic event) is greatly inhibited, causing an unwanted physical, emotional, and biological reaction. Certain psychological pre-factors (such as low self-esteem) are believed to make this process worse.


While there are a variety of possible symptoms of PTSD, there are a few categories of symptoms often experienced.

Intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms include

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories, nightmares or memories related to the event
  • Flashbacks, and a psychological and physical reactivity to reminders of the event

Avoidant symptoms include:

  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, people, or situations connected to the event
  • Negative alterations in mood or cognitions include memory problems associated with the event, feelings of detachment, and an internalized negative self-view or world-view

Increased arousal symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling “on edge”, and being easily startled

Am I at risk?

The reality is any and everyone is at risk for developing PTSD, because life circumstances are the precursor to this diagnosis, and anyone can experience a trauma at any time. Heightened risk factors include those who have experienced a trauma earlier in life, those who have a job that continually expose you to traumatic events (such as being in the military, being a fireman or police officer, etc), those who already suffer from anxiety or depression, and those who lack a good support system.

PTSD At A Glance

  • Approximately 70% of Americans have experienced a traumatic event. 20% of them will develop PTSD.
  • More than 13 million (5%) Americans are estimated to have PTSD at any given time.
  • Approximately 8% (1 in 13) of all American adults will develop PTSD during their lifetime.
  • Women are about twice as likely to develop PTSD than men. Approximately 1 in 10 women will develop PTSD in their lifetime.