Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have experienced a traumatic event. A traumatic event is marked by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, o
r the threat of serious injury or death. Traumatic events can include:
Child sexual or physical abuse
Sexual or physical assault
Serious accidents, like a car wreck
Natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake
During a traumatic event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening around you. Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event. However, not everyone develops PTSD. If your reactions don't go away over time and they disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.
How does PTSD develop?
Most people who go through a traumatic event experience some symptoms in the beginning. Only some will develop PTSD over time. It isn't clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. Whether or not you develop PTSD can depend on many things:
How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted
If you were injured or lost someone important to you
How close you were to the event
How strong your reaction was
How much you felt in control of events
How much help and support you received after the event
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or even years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD. There are four types of PTSD symptoms:
Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms): You may have bad memories or nightmares. You may even feel like you're going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
Avoiding situations that remind you of the event: You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event, and avoid talking or thinking about the event.
Negative changes in beliefs and feelings: The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel fear, guilt, or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. This is another way to avoid memories.
Feeling keyed up (also called hyper-arousal): You may feel jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You may also have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is known as hyper-arousal.
Can children have PTSD?
Children can have PTSD, too. They may have symptoms described above, or other symptoms depending on how old they are. As children get older, their symptoms are more similar to those of adults. Here are some examples of PTSD symptoms in children:
Children from birth to age 6 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom.
Children age 7 to 11 may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with schoolwork or friends.
Children age 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behaviour like substance abuse or running away.
What to do if triggered?
There are a number of coping mechanisms you can employ in the moment if you feel yourself triggered by a situation.
Breathe in your nose and out of your mouth. Slow your breathing to 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out.
Drink ice water.
Get away from the situation you have been triggered in.
Distract your mind from the situation that triggered you.
Call a close friend or family member.
What other problems do people with PTSD experience?
People with PTSD may also have other problems, including:
Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
Depression or anxiety
Drinking or drug problems
Physical symptoms or chronic pain
Relationship problems, including
Articles and Fact Sheets
Understanding PTSD: A VA Brochure about understanding PTSD.