Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition marked by increased stress and anxiety following a traumatic or stressful event. A diagnosis of PTSD can apply to adults, adolescents, and children. A person can be diagnosed with PTSD if exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one or more of the following ways:
- Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
- Witnessing, in person, the event(s) occur to others.
- Learning that a violent or accidental traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend.
- Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to adverse details of the traumatic event (e.g., first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).
- Duration of symptoms more than 1 month
Epidemiology of PTSD
- About 8 percent of the general population is estimated to have PTSD. An additional 5 to 15 percent may experience partial symptoms of PTSD.
- The lifetime incidence of PTSD is estimated to be 9 to 15 percent. In women, the lifetime prevalence rate is 10 percent, versus 4 percent in men.
- An estimated 30 percent of men develop full-blown PTSD after serving in war, and an additional 22.5 percent develop most symptoms of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
- A diagnosis of PTSD requires the presence of one or more of the following symptoms for more than 1 month:
- Recurrent, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).
- Recurrent distressing dreams related to the traumatic event(s).
- Flashbacks in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) is recurring. (Children may reenact trauma-specific events).
- Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
In addition, a diagnosis of PTSD requires that the affected individual demonstrates the following traits for more than 1 month:
- Avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts or feelings closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
- Avoidance of people, places, objects and situations that arouse distressing memories, thoughts or feelings closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
- Negative thoughts and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the event(s), as evidenced by two or more of the following:
- Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I’m a bad person,” “No one can be trusted,” The world is completely dangerous,” “My whole nervous system is permanently ruined”).
- Persistent, distorted thoughts about the cause of consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
- A persistent negative emotional state, such as fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame.
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
- Persistent inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction or loving feelings.
- Marked changes in behavior beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s), as evidenced by two or more of the following:
- Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
- Exaggerated startle response.
- Problems with concentration.
- Sleep disturbance, such as restlessness or difficulty falling/staying asleep.
Mental Health Library Sources:
Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.
Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.