How Do I Know If I Have PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that follows when a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event.  PTSD can take anywhere from months to years post-trauma to develop, which distinguishes it from acute post-trauma stress reactions, which are brief, normal after-effects of a terrifying event that show up immediately after the setting event and fade away within a few weeks. PTSD’s symptoms are life-disrupting, chronic and typically don’t resolve without professional help.


If you’re questioning whether or not you have PTSD, the first step in identifying it is the degree to which your life is being disrupted. PTSD interferes with life to a significant degree. It’s much more disruptive than an occasional sleepless night or bout of anxiety. PTSD is often a life-wrecker. However, your life doesn’t have to be on the skids just yet. PTSD can be insidious and start slowly.

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Major Causes of PTSD

Among civilians, the most common cause of PTSD is a serious motor vehicle accident. Rape, violent assault, the death of a loved one, and serious illness are all common causes of non-combat PTSD. Combat or violence due to military service is also a big cause of PTSD. PTSD incurred through war or combat leads to a disproportionate number of suicides.

Symptoms of PTSD

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PTSD symptoms can be grouped into four distinct categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative or depressive changes in thinking and mood, and changes in a person’s emotional state and reactions. Avoidance and flashbacks are hallmarks of PTSD in adults.

Intrusive Memories

People with PTSD are visited by vivid memories of the distressing event (sometimes called the “setting event,” as it sets the conditions for PTSD to develop. These memories are troubling and provoke intense emotional reactions that become so severe people start avoiding everything that could trigger these memories. 

  • Memories are recurrent and very distressing
  • Memories can take the form of vivid, even horrifying flashbacks.
  • Nightmares and dreams about the setting event or events
  • Emotional reactions to the memories and flashbacks are profound in their intensity, so much so it’s like reliving the event again and again.

Negative Changes in Mood and Thinking

Although depression can co-occur with PTSD, PTSD itself carries many symptoms of depression with it, including:

  • Bleak, negative thinking about one’s self, others, and the world
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless about the future
  • Feeling helpless to change one’s situation
  • A pervasive sense of detachment from others
  • Problems remember events in the past, diminished memory capacity
  • Anhedonia (lack of enjoyment or interest in once fun activities)
  • Feeling emotionally stuck, numb
  • Quick temper, anger outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Intense feelings of guilt and shame

Avoidance

The traumatic event serves as a trigger for a series of devastating reactions, so people will do their best to avoid people, places, and situations that provoke memories of the event. That includes:

  • Avoiding talking about the event
  • Avoiding deliberately thinking about the setting event
  • Shunning people and places that are reminders of the setting event

Physical Symptoms

  • High levels of arousal, e.g., being easily startled
  • Being hyperalert, always on guard, never completely relaxed
  • Dangerous behaviors, like drinking and driving, getting into fights
  • Erratic behavior, like quitting jobs
  • Trouble sleeping, either too much or too little

PTSD Statistics - How Common is PTSD?

Eight million adults in the USA have PTSD. That’s about 8 percent of the US population. Fifty percent of women and 60 percent of men experience at least one serious trauma in their lifetime. Men and women differ in the particular causes of their PTSD, statistically, although their symptoms are the same. Men experience more accidents, combat, and physical assault, while women experience more rape, domestic abuse and childhood abuse.

Announce coming events

A person doesn’t have to fight in a war to get PTSD. Teens and young children can also develop PTSD.  Physical and sexual abuse are the most common causes of PTSD in children. Being separated from one’s caregivers is also a primary cause of childhood PTSD

  • Playacting the traumatic event. Kids will also act out their emotions. Children may have unusual temper tantrums or become extremely shy. They may show marked disinterest or even fear in de
  • Frightening dreams. Children will have nightmares and ask to sleep with their parents or caregivers.
  • Children sometimes revert to younger behaviors, like bedwetting, after having been toilet-trained.
  • Children may become unusually clingy or needy with caregivers.

Gender Differences in PTSD

Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD, which is due to the high incidence of sexual assault and abuse in the nation. Men have proportionally more combat-trauma based PTSD due to the disproportionate percentage of men in combat roles in the military.

Five percent of adolescents between 13 and 18 experience PTSD, usually from abuse or neglect. More girls than boys experience PTSD (8 percent versus 2.3 percent, respectively). There aren’t definitive statistics on the prevalence of PTSD in children younger than 13.

Finally, combat experience in the military is perhaps the most well-known cause of PTSD. Statistics show the following breakdown by era and gender:

  • Veterans from the Vietnam era experience PTSD at a variable rate of no less than 11 percent in a year, with a common high mark of 20 percent. The lifetime incidence of PTSD for Vietnam vets is 30 percent.
  • Desert Storm vets show a 12 percent incidence of PTSD. This relatively low rate may be due to the first Gulf War’s short duration, as opposed to lengthy conflicts like Vietnam, Operation Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
  • Both Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans have a yearly incidence rate of 12 percent.

Military sexual trauma (MST) is also a cause of PTSD. MST is sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurs in the service. Unlike combat trauma, MST can happen in peacetime, war or training cycles. MST rates for women are at 23 percent for sexual assault while on active duty, with 55 percent reporting sexual harassment. Thirty-eight percent of men report sexual harassment.

According to the Veteran’s Administration,  23 out of 100 women (or 23%) reported sexual assault when in the military. 55 out of 100 women (or 55%) and 38 out of 100 men (or 38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

A screening for PTSD like this one can help give you an idea if you’ve got PTSD. PTSD responds extremely well to psychotherapy, with complete remission in many cases.