What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
You feel on edge. Nightmares keep coming back. Sudden noises make you jump. You’re staying at home more and more. Could you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
If you have experienced severe trauma or a life-threatening event, you may develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress, commonly known as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Maybe you felt like your life or the lives of others were in danger, or you thought that you had no control over what was happening. While in the military, you may have witnessed people being injured or dying, or you may have been physically harmed yourself.
“Even though I knew they were just fireworks on the 4th of July, to me they still sounded like incoming mortars. It took me right back to my deployment…”
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event(s), sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger, and irritability, but there are many ways PTSD can impact your everyday life.
Sometimes these symptoms don’t surface for months or even years after the event occurred or after returning from deployment. They may also come and go. If these problems won’t go away or worse—you feel like they are disrupting your daily life—you may have PTSD.
Some factors can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, such as:
The intensity of the trauma
Being hurt or losing a loved one
Being physically close to the traumatic event
Feeling you were not in control
Having a lack of support after the event
What are the signs of posttraumatic stress disorder?
“Driving down the roads in my home town, I found myself noticing every piece of debris, avoiding every pothole.”
A wide variety of symptoms may be signs you are experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder:
“When stress brought on flashbacks, I dealt with them by drinking them away. I considered it recreational drinking, but really I was self-medicating.”
It’s not just the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder but also how you may react to them that can disrupt your life. You may:
What is the treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder?
If you show signs of PTSD, it doesn’t mean you just have to live with it. In recent years, researchers from around the world have dramatically increased our understanding of what causes PTSD and how to treat it. Hundreds of thousands of Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard have gotten treatment for PTSD—and treatment works.
“In therapy I learned how to respond differently to the thoughts that used to get stuck in my head.”
Two types of treatment have been shown to be effective for treating PTSD: counseling and medication. Professional therapy or counseling can help you understand your thoughts and discover ways to cope with your feelings. There are several specific types of counseling that research has shown to be effective for treating PTSD. Medications, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can be used to help you feel less worried or sad.
In just a few months, these treatments can produce positive and meaningful changes in symptoms and quality of life. They can help you understand and change how you think about your trauma—and change how you react to stressful memories.
You may need to work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment before finding the one that’s best for dealing with your PTSD symptoms.
What can I do if I think I have PTSD?
“I wanted to keep the war away from my family, but I brought the war with me every time I opened the door. It helps to talk with them about how I feel.”
In addition to getting treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help relieve PTSD symptoms. For example, talking with other Veterans who have experienced trauma can help you connect with and trust others, exercising can help reduce physical tension, and volunteering can help you reconnect with your community. You also can let your friends and family know when certain places or activities make you uncomfortable.
Your close friends and family may be the first to notice that you’re having a tough time. Turn to them when you are ready to talk. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that is right for you.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Whether you just returned from a deployment or have been home for 40 years, it’s never too late to get professional treatment or support for PTSD. Receiving counseling or treatment as soon as possible can keep your symptoms from getting worse. Veterans who did not realize they had PTSD for many years also have benefited from treatment that allows them to deal with their symptoms in new ways.
You can also consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
A spiritual or religious advisor
“I thought I was being brave by ignoring it. But I was really being brave by facing up to it.”
In addition, taking a self-assessment can help you find out if your feelings and behaviors may be related to PTSD. This short list of questions won’t be able to tell you for sure whether or not you have PTSD, but it may indicate whether it’s a good idea to see a professional for further assessment. If you believe you may be living with PTSD and are ready to take the next step, find a professional near you who may be able to help.
Explore these resources for more information about PTSD in Veterans.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
Understanding PTSD Booklet
This eight-page booklet explains what PTSD is, provides information and resources on support, and shares real stories from people who have dealt effectively with PTSD.
National Center for PTSD
Explore this comprehensive website for detailed information about PTSD, its effects and treatment, and resources for support.
VA’s PTSD Program Locator
This site will allow you to search for PTSD programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s PTSD treatment programs.