Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying event, such as a physical attack or natural disaster. Symptoms include nightmares, recurring thoughts or flashbacks, irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and anger management problems. While about 5.2 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD in a given year, this is only a small portion of those who have experienced a trauma. An estimated 7% to 8% of the population will have PTSD at some point during their lives. About 10% of women develop PTSD in their lifetime, as compared to 4% of men. Among military veterans, an estimated 30% of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime, about 12% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, and some 11% to 20% of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.
Developing PTSD is more likely if a person has:
- Direct trauma exposure as a victim or observer
- Been seriously hurt in the traumatic event
- Experienced long-standing or very severe trauma
- Thought they or a family member were in danger
- Had severe reactions during the trauma, including crying, shaking, vomiting, or feeling detached
- Felt helpless and unable to help
- Experienced military sexual trauma
PTSD risk also increases after an earlier life-threatening trauma or event, such as child abuse, another mental health problem and/or family members who had mental health problems, little support from friends/family, recent loss of a loved one, recent stressful life changes, excessive alcohol consumption, and being female, poorly educated or younger. Effective treatment for PTSD includes cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE) and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used to treat depression, is effective for PTSD.