10 Things You Never Knew About PTSD

When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, we’re betting you’re picturing soldiers who have trouble coping once they’re back home. You’re not necessarily wrong — the National Institute of Mental Health explains PTSD happens to those who have experienced shocking or scary events and have trouble recovering from the trauma. Those who’ve served in the military may be diagnosed with PTSD, but they’re not the only ones — it can be diagnosed in anyone having trouble coping with trauma. While you may think there’s not a ton to know about this disorder aside from the basics, guess again. The following 10 facts are likely to surprise you.

1. Symptoms can appear years later

man looking sad and stressed

Some PTSD symptoms take months to appear. | iStock.com

The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person, but in order to be diagnosed with the disorder, these symptoms need to be consistently occurring for at least a month. While some people will experience flashbacks of the trauma and depression as soon as the event ends, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says PTSD symptoms can take months or even years to show up for others. Those who take longer to develop symptoms may even think something else is wrong with them because the trauma didn’t affect them immediately. Because no two brains are alike, it’s tough to say when exactly symptoms are likely to hit.

Some with PTSD will have flashbacks and nightmares about the event, and some will feel emotionally numb and disengaged. Sleeplessness, feeling jumpy, and difficulty concentrating are also common.

2. Women are more likely to develop it

Man comforting his sad mourning friend

PTSD is more common in women. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Because this disorder is often associated with vets, most people don’t realize women actually experience PTSD more frequently than men. A review published by the American Psychological Association found men typically experience more traumatic events than women, but women are more likely to develop PTSD. The authors concluded sexual trauma may actually cause more post-traumatic stress than any other type of trauma, including war.

It’s also possible women were diagnosed with PTSD more frequently because they generally have a more emotional response to trauma. Men are more likely to develop substance abuse problems or violent behaviors, which don’t necessarily fit the current criteria for the disorder.

3. It’s not something someone can just ‘get over’

sad woman grasping her head

You can’t just “get over” PTSD. | iStock.com

Most people with a mental disorder have come across a loved one or friend telling them to just shake it off and move on, but like depression or anxiety, PTSD is not something you can’t simply shove to the side. A good therapist can make a world of difference when family and friends can’t seem to help. Psych Central says finding a connection and mutual trust with a therapist is incredibly important when dealing with any mental disorder — it can make or break your counseling experience.

4. Symptoms are not always obvious

woman looking frustrated at work

The symptoms are not always noticeable to others. | Thinkstock

While some symptoms are clear-cut, others are not obvious to the person experiencing them or to the loved ones around them. This can become an even bigger issue if the PTSD symptoms don’t appear until years after the traumatic event occurs.

Mayo Clinic explains PTSD can look a lot like depression for some, and this could lead to an improper diagnosis. Others may experience avoidance — they refuse to think or talk about the trauma as a way to try to block it from their memory. Unfortunately, avoiding the event in conversation can lead those closest to the person with PTSD to believe the bad memories are finally being dealt with.

5. Therapy can be enough to recover

a therapist talking to her patient

Those who have PTSD don’t always need medication. | iStock.com

There are multiple options for PTSD patients that are proven to work. While some people may do best when on medication, others may get more out of therapy — in fact, therapy alone can be enough for some.

The Trauma Center explains the different types of treatment available for those who don’t want medication. Psychotherapy involves talking to a licensed mental health counselor or social worker, and this can either be done alone or in a group setting. Group therapy may be preferable for some, as it provides a supportive environment without the isolation of traditional therapy. There’s also behavioral therapy, which teaches the person with PTSD how to change their thoughts about the traumatic event so it doesn’t carry as much emotional weight.

6. There are different types of flashbacks

Woman consoling another woman

Flashbacks occur in some patients differently than in others. | iStock.com

Some people with PTSD experience flashbacks very vividly. After one sight or sound, their brain brings them right back to where the traumatic event occurred, causing them to relive the scary moment. Others with PTSD never experience this phenomenon, and though they have other symptoms, they may just assume they’ve never had flashbacks.

Psychology Today explains these life-like moments of reliving the event are called explicit flashbacks. Here, the person literally feels as if they’ve been transported back to where and when the trauma occurred. Implicit flashbacks occur when the person is overcome with the negative feelings associated with the flashback, but they don’t literally feel as if they’ve transcended time. Some people may even have implicit flashbacks from their childhood, and they may not realize they’re flashbacks if they can’t remember the event — they may just think they feel suddenly overwhelmed and anxious for no particular reason.

7. Exercise is helpful

man exercising next to woman

Exercise can help. | iStock.com

Everyone can benefit from daily exercise, but those with PTSD might benefit most of all. Exercise has known benefits for those who are stressed or depressed, and studies are showing exercise may be just as beneficial as traditional therapy. Jasper Smits, a licensed psychologist, tells The Guardian he found PTSD patients who exercised three times a week for two weeks reaped the same benefits as those who attended 12 therapy weekly therapy sessions. More studies need to be done to prove whether or not exercise is just as good as therapy, but results look promising. At the very least, PTSD patients can greatly benefit from a combination of both.

8. Not everyone has the same trauma threshold

sad man sits on the end of the bed while his partner looks stern

Everyone experiences trauma differently. | iStock.com

There’s a reason not everyone who goes to war or experiences sexual assault walks away with a PTSD diagnosis, and that’s because everyone’s trauma threshold is different. While some people are able to brush off past events, others are not able to sweep away such memories.

You may be wondering what counts as trauma, anyway. After all, everyone experiences negative feelings, rejection, serious illnesses, and financial struggles. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, trauma is a “catastrophic stressor” that most people will never experience in their lifetime — it’s totally outside of the norm. Therefore, it’s unlikely something like a divorce will cause PTSD — rather, someone having difficulty coping with this is likely to have an adjustment disorder instead.

9. Children can develop it, too

Little child playing

Children can develop PTSD. | iStock.com/tatyana_tomsickova

Children aren’t impervious to trauma. Any event that can cause an adult to develop PTSD can also cause a child to develop it — living through natural disasters, car crashes, sexual abuse, or neglect can all lead to the disorder. In young children between 5 and 12 years old, they may incorporate parts of their trauma in with their play (they may pretend to hold a gun during playtime if they witnessed a shooting, for example). Teens are more likely to experience distress the same ways adults with PTSD do, and they’re also more likely to show aggressive or angry behavior. While PTSD may be unavoidable in some severe instances, a supportive family helps.

10. PTSD is a growing epidemic

a depressed old man

More and more people are developing PTSD. | iStock.com

Though medicine has never been more advanced than it is today, there’s growing evidence the PTSD epidemic is only worsening. Time highlights information from a report that found the U.S. Department of Defense spent $294 million on PTSD treatments in 2012, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spent $3 billion that same year. The report also found nearly 5% of all troops have been diagnosed with PTSD.

The disorder is getting worse among older vets, too — in 2013, the VA diagnosed 62,536 new cases among those who didn’t serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. And these numbers are just veterans, which means there are many more people in the U.S. with PTSD who aren’t included. Clearly, there’s some work to be done.