Can you describe the symptoms of PTSD?

June 27 is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day. And yes, it is part of PTSD awareness month. But as Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, wrote in a recent blog post, well-intentioned efforts to raise awareness about PTSD often tell an incomplete story. Contrary to what typically dominates the headlines, combat exposure is only one type of experience that can cause PTSD. Consider the following estimates:


-- 7% of adults in the U.S. experience PTSD at some point in their lives;

-- 20-51% of people suffer PTSD after serious injuries;

-- 25-35% of car crash survivors are afflicted by PTSD (2.6 million non-fatal motor vehicle injuries were treated at U.S. hospitals in 2011);

-- 30-40% of disaster survivors are affected by PTSD;

-- 30-80% of sexual assault survivors and 23-39% of non-sexual assault survivors develop PTSD (one rape is reported to police approximately every 6.2 minutes in the U.S. and one aggravated assault is reported every 41.5 seconds); and

-- 19-71% of friends and family members of homicide victims have PTSD after the incident.

Despite the high incidence of PTSD among non-military populations, people are significantly more likely to recognize the disorder among people exposed to combat than other types of trauma. A recent study resented research participants with fictional narratives about characters who were suffering from identical PTSD symptoms, but differed in the type of trauma they experienced. Compared with characters that experienced sexual assault, research participants were 5.2 times more likely to recognize PTSD as the problem when combat was the traumatic experience.

In case you are wondering (as in unaware) , PTSD is characterized by symptoms of reexperiencing a traumatic event (e.g., nightmares), avoiding reminders of the event, having negative changes in mood following the event, and alterations in reactivity (e.g., being easily startled, or “on edge.”)

The text of the Congressional resolution that named June 27 PTSD Awareness Day is indicative of the lack of awareness about PTSD among people who have never experienced war. The resolution makes no acknowledgement of the fact that the disorder exists among non-military personnel, although it describes the scope of the problem among veterans in extensive detail.

The question of who PTSD awareness needs to be raised among is not a matter of either/or—it’s a matter of and/both. Efforts should continue to be made to increase awareness about PTSD among military populations and also raise awareness about the suffering caused by PTSD among civilians. Increasing PTSD awareness can reduce stigma associated with the disorder, enhance recognition of symptoms, and encourage treatment seeking behaviors that improve the quality of people’s lives.

The National Center for PTSD is a great resource for basic information about the disorder. The Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services has centralized information for a variety of places across Philadelphia where evidence-based PTSD treatments are available.

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