Peninsula Mental Health and Addiction Services
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that can occur after experiencing psychological trauma or shock.

PTSD has long been associated with soldiers, having experienced the terrors of war. However, PTSD can also develop because of events other than war, such as abuse and sexual assault.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5), people experiencing PTSD often feel as though they are reliving a traumatic event (i.e. flashbacks) which cause extreme stress and fear.

What are Symptoms?

Symptoms associated with PTSD vary from person to person, often depending on the severity of the illness. After exposure to a traumatic event, commonly experienced symptoms include:

  • Emotional reactions to the event, such as fear and helplessness
  • Involuntary and recurring memories of the event
  • Flashbacks
  • Memory issues
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping issues
  • Hypervigilance
  • Recurring dreams of the event

What Causes PTSD?

Like many mental illnesses, the exact cause of PTSD cannot be singled out. However, research has identified several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD.

These risk factors are divided into pre-traumatic, peritraumatic, and posttraumatic factors:

  • Pre-Traumatic Factors
    • Temperament
      • Childhood emotional problems
      • Prior mental illnesses
    • Environment
      • Lower socioeconomic status
      • Exposure to prior trauma
      • Lower education
      • Childhood adverse events
      • Cultural characteristics
      • Lower intelligence
      • Family psychiatric history
    • Genetics
      • Female gender
      • Younger age at time of trauma
  • Peritraumatic Factors
    • Environment
      • Severity of trauma
      • Perceived life threat or injury from trauma
      • Violence committed by a caregiver
      • Disassociation that happens during trauma
  • Posttraumatic Factors
    • Temperament
      • Unhealthy coping strategies
      • Development of acute stress disorder
      • Negative appraisals
    • Environment
      • Subsequent negative life events
      • Trauma-related losses
      • Subsequent exposure to reminders of trauma

How is it Treated?

Treatment for PTSD is possible.

Many people suffering from PTSD benefit from therapeutic services. Often called trauma-informed therapy, psychologists determine the severity of the illness and create a treatment plan that is unique to the patient’s situation. Other effective therapy styles include cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to replace harmful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with more positive ones to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, focuses primarily on personal interactions between a patient and their psychologist for healing and coping purposes.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.).