What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): causes of the disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness that occurs after severe negative impacts on the psyche. It is often found among former military men who have been in “hot spots”. PTSD is sometimes referred to as “Vietnamese Syndrome”. However, sometimes the disorder affects children because their psyche is very unstable due to age. Older people also face the disorder, who have accumulated a lot of experience over a long life, often not the most pleasant. The psyche is “overwhelmed” with it, and begins to fail.

Patients with PTSD often complain of depressing memories that they cannot cope with, they are constantly worried about anxiety. Women face the disease more often than men: according to statistics among those who took part in hostilities, 1.2% of women, 0.5% of men struggle with PTSD.

Participation in hostilities is not the only cause of PTSD. Although the diagnosis was officially recognized precisely thanks to the efforts of American military veterans in the 80s of the last century. Despite this, other negative events can also be the cause of the disease:

  • Sexual and/or physical abuse;
  • Natural or man-made disasters;
  • Any deadly situation.

In addition, the cause of PTSD can be a sensitive psyche against the background of childhood, alcoholism, neurosis, and so on.

Important! It is not necessary for the person to be involved in the shock event: PTSD often develops in those who have witnessed something terrible.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Immediately after negative events, a person may feel as usual. Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after three to five months. Most often, the patient has the following symptoms:

  • Panic attacks;
  • Nightmares;
  • Feelings of guilt (from the series “I survived, but they didn’t, it happened because of me”);
  • Apathy, lack of “taste for life”;
  • Anxiety;
  • Irritability;
  • Fast fatiguability.

There are also physical manifestations of PTSD:

  • Hand tremor;
  • Palpitations and uneven breathing;
  • Nausea;
  • Stool disorder;
  • Sweating;
  • Headaches, fainting, dizziness, ringing in the ears.

See Also: The Complete Guide to Body Dysmorphic Disorder


Diagnosis of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

To make a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, doctors rely, among other things, on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

According to DSM-5, the patient must exhibit symptoms from different categories: distortions, avoidance, and negative effects on cognition and mood.

Distortion symptoms (diagnosis requires the manifestation of one or more symptoms):

  • Intrusive recurring memories. Arise involuntarily;
  • Recurring dreams about a stressful event;
  • Flashbacks (returns to the past, at the moment of a stressful event), up to a complete break with reality;
  • Discomfort (both mental and physiological) when reminded of a traumatic event. These can be sounds similar to those that were during a stressful situation, time intervals – the anniversary of an event, and so on.

The avoidance symptoms (diagnosis requires the manifestation of one or more symptoms):

  • Avoidance of thoughts, feelings or memories associated with the event;
  • Avoidance of activities, places, conversations, or people that trigger memories of the event.

Negative effects on cognition and mood (two or more symptoms):

  • Dissociative amnesia – the patient does not remember important components of the traumatic event;
  • Negative beliefs, expecting only bad things from oneself, other people and the world;
  • Distorted thoughts about the cause and consequences of trauma, leading to feelings of guilt or blaming others
  • Persistent negative emotional state;
  • Decreased interest in the outside world and participation in important events;
  • Alienation from people;
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions.

Altered level of consciousness and reactivity (two or more of the following):

  • Bad sleep;
  • Constant irritability, outbursts of aggression, anger;
  • Unreasonable behavior or auto-aggression;
  • Problems with concentration;
  • Increased start reflex;
  • Hypervigilance.


Syndrome symptoms in children and adolescents

The psyche of children and adolescents is not as stable as that of adults, so they are more prone to PTSD. Their symptoms may differ from those of adults. The most common signs of PTSD in children and adolescents are:

  • Bed-wetting;
  • Complete unwillingness to talk, up to loss of speech;
  • Reproducing traumatic events in a playful way alone or with other children;
  • Attachment to parents or other close adults, atypical for a child, unwillingness to lose sight of them;
  • Frequent talk about revenge on the offender if the child found the “guilty” in a stressful situation.
Note! The older the child, the more the symptoms of PTSD are similar to those found in adults.

What happens at the time of injury

Psychiatrists distinguish several stages that a person goes through during and after an injury. Not all of them go through the same way.


StagesWhat’s happening
Stage 1: shockA person is not fully aware of what happened, it may seem to him that this is not with him, somewhere far away, and perhaps not true at all.
Stage 2: AngerShock is replaced by anger: at oneself, others, circumstances and, in general, at life and the whole world
Stage 3: despairComes along with the realization of what happened.
Stage 4: acceptanceA person goes further, builds his life anew.

Normally, a person goes through all these stages, each of them takes a certain time (different for each). But sometimes at the first stage everything ends. Shock, not understanding what is happening, stupor, lack of understanding of how to live on and what to do. This is PTSD.

At the very moment of injury, a person falls into a state of shock and ceases to feel anything, it seems to him that everything is not happening to him. There are no feelings, no emotions, only shock. Patients with PTSD often report that they do not cry, do not experience emotions, and life flows like a machine.

See Also: Why You Should Worry About Borderline Personality Disorder


Stages of development of post-traumatic stress disorder

Depending on the time that has passed since the traumatic situation, as well as on the symptoms, the modern classification distinguishes three stages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): acute, chronic, and delayed.

  • Acute stage – It lasts from the beginning of a stressful situation to six weeks after its completion. During this period, there is lethargy, very high anxiety, confused consciousness.
  • Chronic stage – From six weeks to six months after the shock situation. There is an obsession with trauma, depression. Relationships are deteriorating rapidly
  • Delayed stage– From six months to many years after a critical situation. Depression worsens, alcohol and drug addictions appear, and a steady change in a person’s personality is manifested.


Complications of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Autonomic disorders can join post-traumatic stress disorder: tachycardia, excessive sweating, headaches and dizziness, a feeling of lack of air. One of the most common complications is depression.

Almost always, PTSD is accompanied by sleep disturbance. Insomnia or disturbing sleep with nightmares do not allow the nervous system to recover. In the end, the resources of the psyche are depleted, the patient may have thoughts of suicide.


Which doctor to contact

Timely access to a doctor is the key to successful treatment and the return of life to normal. Psychotherapists specialize in the treatment of PTSD. To restore normal relationships with loved ones, most likely, you will also need the help of a psychologist.

The support of loved ones in such a difficult period is no less important than the help of a doctor. It is close people who can notice in time that something is wrong and help a person take the first steps towards a fulfilling life.

Important! If you fall into a negative situation, you need to react quickly so that there is no “numbness”, so that this message is not fixed and not stored in the body. Factors that increase the development of PTSD are negative attitudes and negative thinking.

Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder

Treatment for patients with PTSD is prescribed by a psychiatrist, each time it is individual. Here are the most effective treatments that are often used:

  • Psychotherapy;
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy;
  • hypnotherapy;
  • Drug therapy. The patient is prescribed antidepressants, anabolics, tranquilizers.

It is worth contacting a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder. By virtue of his experience, he will be able to choose the best methods and treatment regimens.

Important! PTSD is a chronic condition and needs long-term treatment of at least 12–24 months.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Prevention

Psychological debriefing is used as one of the methods for preventing PTSD. In fact, this is an individual or group conversation with a person who has experienced a psychotrauma.

Debriefing can be individual or group. If the treatment is carried out in a group, it is selected among people who have experienced the same or similar stressful situation. The main purpose of the debriefing is to prevent the onset of PTSD, and accordingly, it is carried out immediately after the shock event. The group is led by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

In the process of therapy, the emotions of all participants in group therapy are carefully worked out. It is important that each participant speak out loud their own thoughts, feelings, and also exchange impressions with other members of the group.

Self-employment is just as important. A patient who has experienced a traumatic event must learn to track the changes that occur to him. A specialist can help him with this.


How long can the syndrome last?

According to experts, post-traumatic stress syndrome can manifest itself from a year to many years, up to a lifetime. The consequences of PTSD, for example, in the military can manifest themselves in one way or another throughout life. Those who have the right to bear arms should see psychiatrists regularly.

According to doctors, the so-called Vietnamese, Afghan, Chechen syndromes can manifest themselves throughout life, especially if there was no appropriate treatment. In another stressful situation, a person who, after a shock event and continued military service, can behave unpredictably, up to tragic consequences.

Reports that the military “for no reason” attack their colleagues, many psychiatrists refer to just a manifestation of PTSD. A well-known fact: in the USSR, those who had served in Afghanistan were not recruited into the militia.

In the military, PTSD, according to some doctors, manifests itself in a more severe form than in other people who have survived a stressful situation. They, on duty, often fall into “hot spots”, and traumatic situations accumulate. It is easier to deal with an incident at the household level, most often it is of a one-time nature and does not happen again. The military, on the other hand, has been dealing with this all their lives.


On April 2, 2014, a soldier serving in Iraq fired at the American military base Fort Hood, killing three people. According to the commander of the base, Lieutenant General Mark Milley, the soldier who opened fire on his colleagues was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.



If you suspect that someone close to you has PTSD, the most important thing you can do is help them get the appropriate treatment. Persuade him to make an appointment, go to the doctor with him, try to convince him that this is necessary for further fulfilling life. In addition, you can offer him your own emotional support. Listen carefully to what he says, pay attention to his emotions and feelings. Encourage him to talk. Spend more time together, let it be rich meetings filled with positive emotions. If a loved one often talks about death or suicide, this should not be ignored. Report this to your doctor.
Not everyone who has gone through a traumatic event develops PTSD. Statistics say that the disorder appears in every tenth. Here are the factors that increase the resistance of the psyche to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder: the habit in difficult situations to seek help and support from relatives or specialists; positive thinking; ability to think strategically in any situation; the ability to accept the circumstances as they are; the ability to overcome fear and act in spite of circumstances. There are also factors that, on the contrary, increase the likelihood of developing PTSD: Mental illness; Regular use of drugs and alcohol; Children’s psychotrauma; Experienced suffering; Additional severe stress after a traumatic event – dismissal, divorce.
According to the American Classifier of Mental Disorders DSM-5, oncological diseases, as life-threatening, are classified in the register of traumatic, that is, capable of causing post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a study by Russian scientists, 24% of women with breast cancer from the surveyed sample were diagnosed with PTSD.
After a traumatic situation, the symptoms of PTSD appear within a few months. It has been established that within a year after the experienced shock, about one third of the victims independently get rid of the symptoms of post-stress disorder. After about four years, already half of the people who have gone through psychotrauma have no complaints. Thus, self-healing occurs in 50% of cases.
Systematic abuse of a child or teenager can indeed cause PTSD. This type of injury is called cumulative. That is, it was not some bright stressful event, but a constant life among negative emotions. Moreover, violence can be both physical and emotional.
So far, there is no evidence to support the genetic nature of the disorder. However, twin studies suggest that up to 30% of PTSD may be due to genetics. Scientists in epigenetics (a new scientific direction that studies the influence of external factors on genetics) already say that there is every evidence to believe that stress can be inherited. Not so long ago, scientists discovered specific markers that clearly demonstrate the difference in genes between people with PTSD and those who do not have the disorder.


Expert opinion

Determining that a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy. There are many causes and symptoms of this disease. Not only the person who has experienced severe stress can suffer from PTSD, but also his relatives or people who have witnessed some kind of catastrophe or emergency. Do not delay the visit to the doctor and do not soak the problem. Only timely assistance will give excellent results.



  1. Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition
  2. …Epachintseva, E.M. On the assessment of psychogenic factors in the genesis of post-traumatic stress disorders / E.M. Epachintseva, V.Ya. Semke, N.P. Garganeeva, Siberian Vestn. psychiatry and narcol. 2000. – No. 1. – pp. 14-16
  3. …Pavlova, M. S. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Acute and remote reactions to trauma / M. S. Pavlova // Ros. psychiatrist, journalist 1999. -№1.-S. 46-49