PTSD Questions & Answers

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that impacts people exposed to life-threatening events. However, people with PTSD live in fear long after the event is over and need professional help to heal from the disorder. Below are the answers to several frequently asked questions about PTSD.

PTSD is very real. About 7-8% of Americans develop PTSD at some point in their lives, and approximately 8 million are diagnosed with PTSD each year.

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. The disorder isn’t exclusive to those serving in the military — it also impacts people who experience abuse, assault, accidents, disasters and other traumatic events. The sudden death of a loved one may also cause PTSD.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into three categories:

  1. Re-experiencing - frequently reliving the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, paranoia or other psychological distress
  2. Avoiding and numbing – avoiding people and activities that are reminders of the trauma, and avoiding psychological pain by disconnecting emotionally
  3. Hyperarousal – constantly feeling ‘on guard’ for danger, resulting in sleep problems, irritability, lack of concentration and a heightened startle reflex

It’s natural to have some symptoms of anxiety after a dangerous event, but they usually go away after a few weeks. This is called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). When symptoms last for several weeks and become an ongoing problem, it might be PTSD. Sometimes PTSD symptoms don’t appear for weeks or months after traumas.

Yes, PTSD can be effectively treated by Mercy behavioral health professionals. PTSD treatment methods often include different types of psychotherapy (talk therapy) like cognitive behavioral therapy or medication. 

As with most mental illnesses, PTSD isn’t curable — but people with the condition can improve significantly and see their symptoms resolved. At Mercy, our goal is to help you address the root causes of PTSD, so you can get back to living your best life. 

It’s possible to help and support someone with PTSD. Start by learning about the disorder, so you know what to expect and can relate to what your loved one is experiencing. Encourage your loved one to seek professional treatment. Support their recovery by inviting them to join you in peaceful activities, which will help them rejoin the world and reconnect with family. Listen to and acknowledge their feelings. And above all, be patient.

PTSD can develop following abuse. Since abuse is often a recurring behavior, PTSD from abuse may be different and categorized as "complex PTSD.” A person with complex PTSD isn’t reliving a single traumatic event but an ongoing pattern of repetitive abuse, neglect and trauma.

PTSD from abuse often requires more extensive treatment, as people work to recover from what may be a lifetime of abuse. Each trauma must be processed, so recovery may require extensive therapy. 

Many combat veterans with PTSD report experiencing hallucinations or delusions. Others experience bouts of paranoia. These are symptoms of psychosis, which impair their relationship to reality and are treated as serious mental disorders. Early treatment of psychosis (especially the first episode) leads to the best outcomes.

PTSD can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure. But fear-related PTSD symptoms like intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, avoidance of trauma triggers and exaggerated startle carry the greatest cardiovascular risk. Your Mercy doctor can monitor and treat your high blood pressure.

PTSD creates a constant state of emotional stress. Since it also causes sleep problems, PTSD sufferers are often tired, edgy and likely overreact to everyday stressors. With PTSD, anger can replace guilt, grief or helplessness, making them feel stronger and less vulnerable. Trying to suppress the anger can cause outbursts that seem out of context with the situation.

Your Mercy provider can help with strategies for managing PTSD-related anger. Relaxation and integrative techniques such as yoga, meditation or tai chi may help as well.

Usually, PTSD appears within three months of a traumatic event. But people respond differently, and symptoms may not occur until years later. 

PTSD affects memories associated with the trauma, but it can also limit the mind's ability to store, recall and create other memories. Memories occurring after the trauma may be hazy, have gaps or be lost altogether. It can suddenly become difficult to find familiar places or remember important names, dates and experiences. 

Childhood trauma can delay or impair age-appropriate development milestones, thoughts and behaviors. Studies show childhood trauma victims may have lower IQs and language and learning issues.

In some people, the symptoms and effects of PTSD go away after a few months. In others, they last for years. Many people with PTSD gradually improve, but professional help can help them make significant progress and get their lives back.

  • PTSD only affects military or combat veterans. This misconception is harmful and may prevent people from seeking help. A person showing symptoms of PTSD may feel they don’t have it because they haven’t served in the military. Remember, PTSD can affect anyone.

  • If the trauma happened a long time ago, you should be ‘over it’ by now. PTSD symptoms are sometimes delayed for years, especially when trauma is experienced at a young age. Suppressed memories can trigger PTSD symptoms.

  • Since there’s no cure for PTSD, treatment is a waste of time and money. This is false. Many effective treatments are available for people who live with PTSD. They can learn to effectively manage their symptoms and live productive, meaningful lives.  

  • Being diagnosed with PTSD is a sign of weakness. Getting help for PTSD is courageous and shows a commitment to improving yourself. When you suffer from physical illnesses or injuries, you don’t hesitate to get medical treatment. Your mental health deserves the same care. Get the care you need to live a happier, healthier life.

People with PTSD are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in later life. More research is needed to understand why. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, PTSD has been linked with as much as double the dementia risk. 

PTSD Information

At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of post-traumatic stress disorder services, including: