How Long Does PTSD Last & Does It Go Away?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/29/2020

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could potentially be triggering.

Society has been making progress over recent years to overcome the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. This has helped people better understand some topics and disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, there are still areas that many people are unfamiliar with. This means that those struggling may not realize that there are treatment options available that can help. PTSD tends to fall into this category.

Many people know the acronym PTSD, and some even know what it stands for, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. However, there are some misconceptions about the disorder and who it can impact. This leaves people wondering many different questions about it, including things like “How long does PTSD last” and “Can PTSD go away?”

What Is PTSD?

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As mentioned above, PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It is a diagnosable mental health disorder that falls under anxiety disorders. It can impact people who have been exposed to traumatic events. While many people automatically connect PTSD with soldiers who have been to war, PTSD is not limited to military members. In fact, there are many different types of trauma that people can experience, and any of them can lead to symptoms and diagnosis of PTSD.

The American Psychiatric Association shares that one in eleven people will experience and be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their life. While it can impact anyone regardless of race, culture, or age, some are disproportionately impacted. This includes women and people of Latino, African American, and American Indian descent.

What Causes PTSD?

The exact traumatic experience that a person has does not make a difference. Any circumstance or experience that is traumatic to a person can lead to PTSD. However, it’s important to understand that “trauma” is not just any slightly scary experience.

Some examples of trauma that can lead to PTDS include:

  • Being involved in or witnessing a serious car accident
  • Fighting in or living through war
  • Violent assault
  • Surviving a fire, flood, hurricane, or other disaster
  • Death of a loved one
  • Childbirth experiences
  • Abuse

It’s important to note that not every person that experiences traumatic situations will develop PTSD. It’s normal to experience some negative symptoms after living through or experiencing trauma. However, some people naturally improve as time passes, and they experience fewer symptoms or even no symptoms as a result.

There are some factors that could increase a person’s chance of developing PTSD after trauma. These include things like:

  • Not having a support system in place
  • Experience with mental health challenges
  • Seeing someone die or be hurt
  • Getting hurt due to the traumatic event
  • Experiencing additional stress as a result of the trauma, such as financial stress or grief from losing a loved one

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Please remember that these examples don’t have to happen for a person to develop PTSD. If you think that you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD, you can take this online PTSD quiz to determine the chance.

Symptoms Of PTSD

The symptoms involved with PTSD don’t always begin right after a traumatic event, but they tend to start early on and often within just a few months of the incident. However, some people don’t develop symptoms until years later.

For someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, their symptoms must be severe enough to impact their daily lives or relationships and last for over a month.

There are four different categories that symptoms are classified as. They include:

  • Avoidance – This is when people go out of their way to avoid remembering things about the event or coming across things that could remind them about it. This can include refusal to discuss the event.
  • Intrusion – This can include things like flashbacks, dreams, or involuntary memories.
  • Cognitive symptoms – These symptoms impact the way that a person thinks. It could be beliefs that they hold about themselves or their inability to remember things from the trauma.
  • Reactive and arousal symptoms – These symptoms impact the way that a person can respond in situations. It can include things like outbursts of anger or self-destructive behavior. This is also what can lead to someone being startled easily.

People who experience PTSD may also develop other mental health disorders that coincide with it. These can include things like substance use disorders and depression.

How Long Does PTSD last?

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There is no set answer for how long PTSD can last. While some people find that their symptoms begin to fade over time with treatment, others can experience symptoms of it for years. There are instances of people who find their symptoms fade over time even without treatment, but it’s also possible that the symptoms will remain without treatment. This is why it can be so important to seek treatment to help you address the symptoms you’re experiencing and overcome the traumatic event.

Some people find that while their PTSD doesn’t go away, the severity of their symptoms lessens over time. They may experience certain times, such as on the anniversary of the event or when exposed to a similar situation, that can trigger memories of the trauma and their symptoms.

What Treatments Are Available For PTSD

Thankfully, several different types of treatment are effective at helping people manage their PTSD symptoms.

Several forms of psychotherapy are helpful for those with PTSD. Suppose you believe that you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD. In that case, it may be in your best benefit to find a mental health professional experienced in treating people who have experienced trauma.

Some of the common forms of treatment used by therapists include:

Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy

Your therapist will work with you to help you face your negative feelings related to the trauma. This typically starts with you learning breathing techniques and other strategies that can help you manage feelings of anxiety that arise as you face memories and other triggers. Once you have that established, your therapist will work with you to create a list of the things you may have been avoiding, and then they’ll help you work through them one at a time. Through this process, you’ll be exposing yourself to the things you were purposefully or unintentionally avoiding.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Through CPT, your therapist will work with you to help you face and reframe the thoughts you have around the traumatic event. You will begin by talking with your therapist and eventually work on writing down your experiences and thoughts. Your therapist can help identify and reframe any necessary areas.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR)

When using EMDR therapy, your therapist will direct your eye movements as you recall the traumatic event. It’s believed that this helps to lessen the emotional impact of recalling the event. Eventually, overtime, it’s believed that this can help you face the memories while removing some of the psychological impacts that it causes. This form of treatment is strongly recommended by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ for those with PTSD.

Medication

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Some forms of medication have been found helpful in treating the symptoms of PTSD. While medication will not address the underlying cause of the symptoms, it can help a person manage their symptoms while doing other things to address its cause.

If you’re interested in medication options, it’s important to speak with your physician or a psychiatrist who can write prescriptions. Make sure to communicate to them all of the symptoms you’re experiencing and ask for recommendations for a therapist if you don’t already have one. This can be most effective in providing you with the best treatment options possible.

The options above are just a few of the treatment options that are available for those with PTSD. Your therapist will be able to work with you to identify the form of treatment that will be most effective for your specific situation.

While you must be experiencing symptoms for at least a month to be diagnosed with PTSD, it doesn’t mean that you need to wait to seek treatment. Mental health professionals can help you address and treat your symptoms from the start. So, don’t delay in seeking help and treatment if you’re struggling with your mental health.

There Is Hope When You Have PTSD

Living through a traumatic situation can leave you facing many challenges, including PTSD. But remember that there are many different treatment options, including the ones listed above, that can help you manage and overcome your symptoms.

There is no shame in reaching out for help, and in many cases, seeking professional help is the most effective way to start your treatment process. You can learn to feel safe and enjoy the world around you once again.