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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Home

This guide provides a range of resources on the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a "complex anxiety disorder that may occur when individuals experience or witness an event perceived as a threat and in which they experience fear, terror, or helplessness." PTSD is sometimes summarized as “a normal reaction to abnormal events.” It was first defined as a distinctive disorder in 1980 and was originally diagnosed in veterans of the Vietnam War.

Although the veteran population is most heavily affected by PTSD, "it is now recognized in civilian survivors of rape or other criminal assaults; natural disasters; plane crashes, train collisions, or industrial explosions; acts of terrorism; child abuse; or war." (Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 3rd ed.)

DSM-V: 309.81

ICD-10: F43.10


Special thanks to JJ Pionke, Applied Health Sciences Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who allowed us copy information from her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Guide.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms usually begin within 3 months of a traumatic incident. For symptoms to be considered PTSD, they must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with functioning in relationships or work. A doctor who has experience helping people with mental illnesses can diagnose PTSD.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least one month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks -- reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

Arousal and reactivity symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or "on edge"
  • Having difficulty sleeping and/or having angry outbursts

Cognition and mood symptoms:

  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

PTSD Facts

Who is affected by PTSD?

PTSD can affect almost anyone in any age group if they experience a traumatic event or series of events. National Institute of Mental Health studies showed that in 2007:

  • Nearly 7.7 million adults in the United States had PTSD
  • 3.7% of adolescent boys and 6.3% of adolescent girls had PTSD
  • People have a 8-10% risk of developing PTSD over their lifetime
  • On average, 30% of soldiers who have been in a war zone develop PTSD