Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Also known as PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition in which people experience a variety of symptoms following exposure to a traumatic event. These may include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, avoidance, and changes in mood and thinking.

An estimated 6.8% of U.S. adults experience PTSD.   Symptoms may include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding reminders of the trauma, startling easily, and having negative thoughts and beliefs.

Causes of PTSD include abuse, violence, natural disasters, accidents, terrorism, illness, or the sudden death of a loved one. There are effective treatments that can help such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes PTSD?

    There are a number of factors that can play a role in how people respond to traumatic events. Genetics, for example, can influence how people handle stress during and after a trauma. People may be more likely to develop PTSD if they also have an existing mental health condition, have experienced trauma in the past, face other life stressors, and lack social support.

  • How is PTSD treated?

    There are a number of treatments that can help reduce or eliminate PTSD symptoms. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to reduce symptoms of PTSD and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety if present. There are also psychotherapy techniques that can help including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

  • How can you help someone with PTSD?

    One way you can help a loved one with PTSD is to learn about the symptoms and the challenges of living with the condition. Encourage your loved one to seek help from a trained professional. Unaddressed symptoms of PTSD can become more severe over time, so it is important to try and help them find resources to begin the healing process.  

  • Is PTSD considered a disability?

    If you are unable to work in the field for which you are trained due to your PTSD symptoms, you may qualify for disability benefits. If your condition is due to military service, you may qualify for veteran's benefits. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also requires reasonable accommodations for people who have PTSD and have a record of impairment due to their condition.  

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) . Updated November 2017.

  2. Fischer EP, Sherman MD, et al. Perspectives of family and veterans on family programs to support reintegration of returning veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychol Serv. 2015 Aug;12(3):187-98.  doi:10.1037/ser0000033

  3. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA disability compensation for PTSD . Updated September 22, 2020.

  4. Iyadurai L, Visser RM, Lau-Zhu A, et al. Intrusive memories of trauma: A target for research bridging cognitive science and its clinical application. Clin Psychol Rev. 2019;69:67-82. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2018.08.005