PTSD 101

Other posts in this series: depression, anxiety,and stress

June 27th has been designated National PTSD Awareness Day in honor of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Biel’s Birthday. Biel took his life in April 2007 after suffering from PTSD following two tours of duty in the Iraq War.

The month of June has been designated as Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. For many, PTSD is associated with military service.

During my training as an Army Reserve Combat Field Medic, we were taught ways to treat “combat fatigue” or “shell shock,” as it was sometimes called.

Having no psychiatric training, we returned soldiers back to action as soon as possible, telling them to “man up” usually making things all the worse.

But combat is not the only origin of the disorder. It may occur after anyone has experienced any trauma. Traumatic events like traffic collisions, rape or other violent personal assault, unexpected death of a loved one, life-threatening illness including pregnancy-related trauma and natural disasters can all trigger the disorder. So can a genetic predisposition.

I was awarded a Silver Star for bravery. You’re not going to tell me I’m a coward. If somebody like me has PTSD, then anybody can have it. — Major Joshua Brandon, US Army (2002-present)

What Is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder brought on by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The National Center for PTSD explains, “Trauma is a shocking and dangerous event that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger.”

Then according to Jillian Levy, if following the trauma, for at least one month someone has these symptoms

Matthew Tull, Ph.D., Symptoms and Diagnosis of PTSD

1) at least one reoccurring negative symptom,
2) at least one “avoidance” symptom such as refusing to express emotions, unwillingness to visit specific locations, phobias of specific events or activities that bring out painful memories, etc.
3) “at least two ‘arousal’ and ‘reactivity’ symptoms (such as anger, aggression, rage, trouble sleeping, being easily startled or “on edge”, etc., and
4) “at least two cognition and mood symptoms (such as anxiety, depression, strong feelings of guilt, brain fog, trouble concentrating, loss of memory, etc.)”

they are likely experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. With this explanation, any trauma presenting the four symptoms from the list above could be PTSD. These symptoms often lead to progressively worsening mental health problems including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, social isolation, insomnia, high-stress levels and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.

How Common is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

According to statistics from the National Center for PTSD, between seven and eight percent of all people will have PTSD sometime in their lives.

In any given year, about 8 million adults have PTSD. However, this is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma and who have developed PTSD.

While about four percent of men experience the disorder, nearly one in ten women (or 10%) will develop PTSD sometime in their lives. The National Center for PTSD reported, “findings from a large national mental health study show that a little more than half of all women will experience at least one traumatic event in their life.” Statistically, this is slightly less than for men, but PTSD responses trauma seem less common for men, at least reported cases.

Continuing their report, “the most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. About one in three women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. …Women are also more likely to be neglected or abused in childhood, to experience domestic violence, or to have a loved one suddenly die. “

Treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

This is the key message of this month: PTSD is treatable, but sadly, not everyone seeks treatment. There are resources available to help with diagnosis to get help; there is no shame in seeking assistance.3

Dr. Matthew Tull explains that PTSD often interferes with a person’s ability to function. “You may wonder if you or someone you care about has PTSD,” he states, “and whether you need to get professional help. If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is important to see a doctor so that you can get the right diagnosis and treatment.” 4

Dr. Tull says, “There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD, such as various therapy techniques, as well as evidence that medication may be useful for people struggling with symptoms of PTSD. These treatment methods are used to help minimize, or even eliminate, distressing symptoms that people with PTSD often experience.”5

Commonly, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavior therapy” is used to “help control symptoms and help prevent them from getting worse. Medication, such as SSRI antidepressants can help ease the symptoms.” But according to Levy, “experts believe that medications work best when combined with psychotherapy in order to help the patient to feel more in control of their recovery.”

These drugs are used “to help patients deal with feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, lack of motivation, feeling numb inside, social isolation,” she wrote. And while drug “side effects are always possible,” she continued, but “when using medications, they can also be life-saving for some patients. They can also be an important catalyst towards recovery while also beginning other natural treatments.”

Some natural treatments could include developing mindfulness through trauma-sensitive yoga, meditation and prayer, intentional social and family support, conscious self-care, stress management, and desensitization through virtual reality exposure to fears.

How to Help Others with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

If someone you know might be suffering from PTSD, or you are experiencing symptoms, seek professional care from an experienced therapist who treats PTSD and take a look at the resources below:

Get your PTSD Cheat Sheet from the member Bonus Vault:

You can also use #PTSDAwarenessMonth to share support, offer other resources, and follow social media.


  1. National Center for PTSD
  2. Ibid.
  3. National PTSD Awareness Month
  4. Matthew Tull, PhD, Symptoms and Diagnosis of PTSD
  5. Matthew Tull, PhD, How PTSD is Treated

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