Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common mental health disorder or mental illness that impacts people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds worldwide. According to the World Health Organization or WHO, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects an estimated 3.6% of the population worldwide. In the United States, it's said that about 7% to 8% of individuals will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their lives. But what exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? What is a flashback?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Overview
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is categorized as a trauma and stress-related disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has the potential to develop after a person experiences trauma, whether directly or indirectly, which could mean any of the following things:
- Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
- Having witnessed the event(s) as it occurred to others in person.
- Having learned that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend.
- Repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s).
Not everyone who has experienced or witnessed trauma develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; however, witnessing or experiencing trauma does not mean that you will develop PTSD. After experiencing a traumatic event or witnessing one, it is normal and healthy to process a wide range of feelings. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD occurs when symptoms are long-lasting (for one month or more), cause significant distress, and impede a person's life on an ongoing basis by impacting important functioning areas such as work, school, or one's social life. Additionally, the changes/symptoms that occur must not be attributable to a substance or another medical condition. PTSD is diagnosed based on the criteria in the most recent version of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders or DSM, which is currently the DSM-5.
Signs and Symptoms Of PTSD
Signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may include but aren't limited to:
- Re-experiencing traumatic events through flashbacks, nightmares, and so on
- Avoiding memories of the events or external reminders of the event
- Disassociation or depersonalization
- Trouble sleeping (sleep disturbance)
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Blaming oneself for the event(s) that occurred
- Isolation from others
- Difficulty trusting others
- Reckless behavior
- Irritability or agitation
You don't have to experience every symptom above to receive a PTSD diagnosis; in the DSM, it states the number of symptoms in each area, such as avoidance-related symptoms and mood or cognition related symptoms, and what symptoms categorized in those areas could include. Note that children age six years old or below may experience additional or varying symptoms if they have PTSD; one of the most common of these varying or additional symptoms is re-creating the traumatic event or parts of it during playtime or through play. There is a special section in the DSM dedicated to children age six and below called "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Children 6 Years and Younger" to refer to more information about PTSD and how it's diagnosed in this age group.
Flashbacks and Intrusive Thoughts In PTSD
Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts or mental images are common in those with PTSD. In fact, to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must meet the criteria for symptoms in a number of areas, one of which is re-experiencing the event in some capacity. This often occurs through a flashback, which is often what people refer to if they are searching for "PTSD images." An example of this might be someone who was in a car accident, visions of a car coming toward you. The American Psychology Association (APA) dictionary defines the word "flashback" as a noun that refers to: "the reliving of a traumatic event after at least some initial adjustment to the trauma appears to have been made. Memories may be triggered by words, sounds, smells, or scenes that are reminiscent of the original trauma (as in a backfiring car triggering a flashback to being in combat)."
In the DSM, this is described under one area of symptoms that a person must meet for the diagnosis of PTSD (intrusion symptoms), which states one or more of the following intrusion symptoms must occur for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD:
- "Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s). Note: In children older than 6 years, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic event(s) are expressed.
- Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or effect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s). Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.
- Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring. (Such reactions may occur on a continuum, with the most extreme expression being a complete loss of awareness of present surroundings.) Note: In children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.
- Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
- Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s)."
This is only one piece of the diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what it essentially means is that to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must experience at least one of the above symptoms. You must also experience avoidance symptoms and two or more symptoms related to mood or cognition. For the full DSM-5 PTSD criteria, click here.
Common Causes of PTSD
There are a number of risk factors that can make someone more likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. These include but are not limited to family history and a lack of social support. As for traumatic events that commonly lead to PTSD, it is important to remember that any traumatic event you experienced or directly witnessed can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the traumatic events noted as most likely to lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder include but are not limited to car accidents, sexual assault, violence, domestic violence, natural disasters, and war or combat. If you are struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or think that you might be, it is important to reach out for help. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a highly treatable mental health condition, and you are not alone.
Find Help For Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you have never received mental health treatment before, it can be hard to know where to start. Many people start by seeing a primary care physician or general doctor to describe their symptoms and get a referral to a mental health professional. Other ways to find therapists or counselors include:
- Contacting your insurance company or visiting their website to see which providers they cover in your area.
- Searching the web for "trauma therapist near me," "PTSD therapy near me," or any applicable, similar term that describes what you're looking for.
- Using an online mental health provider directory.
- Signing up for an online therapy company, such as BetterHelp.
If you are struggling to find a mental health provider, the Mind Diagnostics provider search tool, located in the upper right-hand corner of your screen, may be able to help. All you have to do to use the tool is type in your zip code and press "enter" on your keyboard or click the magnifying glass. Common therapies used for PTSD include but aren’t limited to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), accelerated resolution therapy (ART), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. For all information regarding specific therapies and treatments, speak with a medical or mental health professional.
Low Cost and Free Support
If you are low-income, there are a number of ways to find therapy or counseling that is free or low-cost. Of course, if you have insurance, your therapy may be almost fully covered or covered in full in some cases. If you don't, however, that does not mean that hope is lost. If you're a student, you may be able to receive mental health help through your educational institution, depending on where you go to school. Other options include getting therapy or counseling through community centers, religious institutions, vouchers or scholarships, or seeing a counselor who works on a sliding scale rate. If you are struggling to find services in your area for low-income people and families and live in the United States, you may consider calling 211, which is available in most areas. The operators at your local 211 line may know of free counseling or therapy services as well as other services for low-income individuals, including help for getting your basic needs met and finding childcare.
PTSD Facts and Statistics
Here are some facts and statistics on PTSD that may surprise you:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can impact people of all ages and genders, but it's more common in women and girls than men.
- It is common for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to struggle with an additional mental health condition, though this is not always the case. Some commonly seen co-occurring conditions in those living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder include but aren’t limited to anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and substance use disorder.
- About 4% of People ages 18 through 29 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, where 3.5% of people aged 30 to 44 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 5.3% of those 45 through 59 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Only 1% of those aged 60 or older have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the National Institute of mental health or NIMH.
- It's estimated that around 5% of adolescents experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Take the Mind Diagnostics Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Test
Are you wondering if you could have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or if you have symptoms of PTSD? If so, consider taking the Mind Diagnostics Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder test. Taking the Mind Diagnostics Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder test is fast, free, and confidential. It is not a replacement for a diagnosis, but it can give you insight into your symptoms, and taking the test might just be the first step toward reaching out for the help you need. Although PTSD can impact people of all ages, the Mind Diagnostics Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder test is for those aged 18 and older. After taking the test, you will get your results via email right away.
Click on the following link or copy and paste it into your web browser to take the Mind Diagnostics Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder test: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/ptsd-test.