Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What Is It?

In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distressing symptoms occur after a frightening incident. For the most part, a person with this disorder must have experienced the event him or herself, or witnessed the event in person. The person may also have learned about violence to a close loved one. The event must have involved serious physical injury or the threat of serious injury or death.

Exposure to violence through media (news reports or electronic images) is usually not considered a traumatic incident for the purposes of this diagnosis, unless it is part of a person's work (for example, police officers or first responders to a violent event).

Some examples of traumas include:

  • Military combat (PTSD was first diagnosed in soldiers and was known as shell shock or war neurosis)

  • Serious motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes and boating accidents

  • Industrial accidents

  • Natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions)

  • Robberies, muggings and shootings

  • Rape, incest and child abuse

  • Hostage-taking and kidnappings

  • Political torture

  • Imprisonment in a concentration camp

  • Refugee status

In the United States, physical assault and rape are the most common stressors causing PTSD in women, and military combat is the most common PTSD stressor in men.

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