Understanding PTSD’s causes, treatment, and symptoms

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 in 11 people will receive a PTSD diagnosis in their lifetime. Though some causes and symptoms may be expected, PTSD can develop and manifest itself in many more ways than expected. Read this blog to better understand the latest research on PTSD, its causes, and how to treat it.

What is PTSD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5-TR (DSM-5-TR) includes a diagnostic criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and offers slight variation to diagnostic criteria between individuals older than 6 years and individuals 6 years and younger.

  • For a PTSD diagnosis to be valid, the DSM-5-TR requires history of exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
  • The exposure can include directly experiencing the traumatic event, witnessing the traumatic event happen to others, or learning that a traumatic event happened to a close family or friend.
  • Sometimes a PTSD diagnosis can be made for individuals who experience repeated exposure to negative details of traumatic events, such as first responders collecting human remains.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD can develop as a result of various traumatizing events including but not limited to physical and sexual assault, war, forced immigration, gun violence, terrorism, natural disasters, severe health complications, and death. It can affect people of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures.

  • The DSM-5-TR estimates the U.S. national lifetime prevalence of PTSD is between 6.1% – 8.3% and annually about 4.7% of people have PTSD.
  • The WHO indicates that around 3.6% of people have PTSD globally every year however in conflict affected regions the percentage increases to 11%. Compared to males with PTSD, the risk for females to have PTSD is twofold.
  • Healthy disparity exists with the diagnosis, such that the U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives have higher rates compared to non-Latino whites.

What does PTSD look like on a daily basis?

As a result of exposure, individuals with PTSD may develop psychological symptoms that cause significant distress and impair functioning in social, occupational, or other areas. Some psychological symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Recurrent and intrusive memories or thoughts about the traumatic event, nightmares, flashbacks, anger, fear, insomnia
  • Problems with concentration, sleep, digestion, appetite
  • Social withdrawal, distrust in others, frequent arguments with loved ones
  • Negative thoughts about self/world, losing hope, problems at work or school, and avoidance of situations and people that remind individuals of the traumatic event
  • Self-blame, depression, suicidal thoughts, feeling numb, depersonalization/derealization
  • Alcohol & drug abuse
  • Sometimes people may experience an exaggerated startle response and appear reactive to loud noise or accidental touch

What PTSD can look like on a daily basis

Does PTSD happen immediately, or does it develop over time?

PTSD symptoms can emerge from one or multiple trauma incidents over time. It is important to note that individuals can experience a traumatic event but not develop PTSD

  • The onset of symptoms is influenced by existing coping skills, biological predispositions, and availability of social support.
  • According to the National Center for PTSD at the US Dept of Veteran Affairs, personal factors such as age, gender, previous traumatic exposure influence whether an individual develops PTSD or not.

How do you treat PTSD?

The American Psychiatric Association relays the following evidence-based psychotherapy modalities effective for treating PTSD. Each modality offers a different approach depending on the needs of the individual:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: might involve talking about memories and associated emotions in hopes of changing the negative beliefs and emotions caused by the trauma
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: involves progressive exposure to trauma triggers in a safe, controlled way to foster positive coping by overcoming fears and reduce avoidance behaviors
  • EMDR: uses eye movement and bilateral brain stimulation to help individuals reprocess the memory of trauma so that it is encoded differently. The idea is that if the memory is recalled differently, an individual will experience less distress and emotional activation.
  • Group Therapy: allows individuals to establish genuine connection with others in a safe environment, learn practical coping skills, and receive objective feedback from others to increase self-awareness.
  • Seeking Safety Therapy (for PTSD and co-occurring substance use)
  • Trauma Focused CBT

If you, or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible. PCI specializes in trauma-informed treatment, which is integrated across our treatment modalities. Contact us today for more information, and to get in touch with a clinician today.


1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

2. What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? (n.d.). https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

3. What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? (n.d.-b). https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd#:~:text=It%20is%20important%20to%20note,family%2C%20friends%20or%20clergy)

4. VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp

5. World Health Organization: WHO. (2013, August 6). WHO releases guidance on mental health care after trauma. who.int. https://www.who.int/news/item/06-08-2013-who-releases-guidance-on-mental-health-care-after-trauma