Service member hides face in their hands

Recognizing the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

People who live through a traumatic event sometimes suffer its effects long after the real danger has passed. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. While PTSD is often associated with combat veterans, any survivor of a natural disaster, physical abuse or other traumatic event may suffer from it. The good news is that with professional help, PTSD is treatable. But the first steps in getting help are learning the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms and understanding the treatment options.

Knowing the risk factors

Several factors play a role in developing PTSD, such as individual personality, severity of the event, proximity to the event, the people involved in the event, duration of the trauma and the amount of support the person receives afterward. You may be at higher risk if you:

  • Were directly involved in the traumatic event
  • Were injured or had a near-death experience
  • Survived an especially long-lasting or severe traumatic event
  • Truly believed your life or that of someone around you was in danger
  • Had a strong emotional or physical reaction during the event
  • Received little or no support following the event
  • Have multiple other sources of stress in your life

Recognizing the symptoms

Just as individual reactions to trauma vary, PTSD symptoms also differ from person to person. Symptoms may appear immediately after a traumatic event or they may appear weeks, months or even years later. Although the symptoms of a "typical" stress reaction can resemble those of PTSD, true PTSD symptoms continue for a prolonged time period and often interfere with a person's daily routines and commitments. While only a trained medical professional can diagnose PTSD, possible signs of the disorder include:

  • Re-experiencing trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder frequently includes flashbacks, or moments in which the person relives the initial traumatic event or re-experiences the intense feelings of fear that surrounded it.
  • Avoidance/numbness. As a result of flashbacks or other negative feelings, people suffering from PTSD may avoid conversations or situations that remind them of the frightening event they survived.
  • Hyper arousal. Feeling constantly on edge, feeling irritable and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating are all possible signs of PTSD.

Children can also suffer from PTSD. In children, PTSD symptoms may differ from those seen in adults and may include trouble sleeping, acting out or regression in toilet training, speech or behavior. Parents of children with PTSD may notice that the children's artwork or pretend play involves dark or violent themes or details.

Understanding the treatment options

Even suspecting you have PTSD is reason enough to get a professional opinion, especially when free help is available around the clock to service members and their families. If you're not sure whom to talk to, start with any of the following:

  • Military treatment facility or covered services. You can locate the nearest military treatment facility and covered services in the civilian community near you through the TRICARE website.
  • Your healthcare provider. If you receive health care in the community through a civilian provider, you can start by talking to your doctor.
  • Local Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. If you are eligible to receive care through a VA hospital or clinic, find the nearest facility through the Veterans Health Administration website.
  • Military OneSource. While Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services, it can provide referrals to your local counseling services in your community by calling 800-342-9647.
  • Military Crisis Line. If you or anyone you know ever experiences thoughts of suicide, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. The Military Crisis Line staff can connect you with mental health support and crisis counseling services for a wide range of issues.

Remember, you are not alone. Free help is available 24/7 to service members and their families. Seeking help is a sign of strength that helps to protect your loved ones, your career, and your mental and physical health.

Note: Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance abuse, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.