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Post-traumatic stress disorder

A girl outside alone in an area ravaged by disaster.Traumas, or very stressful events, can be extremely hard to handle. Read below to learn more.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? arrow. top

PTSD is a disorder that can happen after a very scary event that involved harm or a threat of harm. A person can develop PTSD after many kinds of scary events (also called traumas), including a mugging, accident, rape, serious illness, natural disaster, or war.

You don't have to be the one who was in danger to experience PTSD. Witnessing a danger to someone else can lead to PTSD. You also can develop PTSD if you find out that something very dangerous or deadly happened to someone you love.

It's normal to be very stressed after going through something traumatic. You may have strong emotions and trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating after a scary event. You also might think a lot about what happened and have nightmares. With the right support, you can expect to feel better after a few days or weeks. You can read some ideas for how to feel better after a trauma.

PTSD is different from feeling very stressed after a trauma. PTSD symptoms are strong and get in the way of a person's ability to lead their usual life. Also, PTSD symptoms last for longer than a month.

What are PTSD symptoms? arrow. top

Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Having bad dreams
  • Feeling like the scary event is happening again, which is called a flashback
  • Having scary thoughts you can't control
  • Staying away from places and things that remind you of what happened
  • Feeling worried, guilty, or sad
  • Feeling like you have no emotions
  • Having trouble remembering the event
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling on edge
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed

For some people, the symptoms of PTSD begin soon after the trauma, but for other people symptoms may start weeks or months later. Of course, many people have a trauma and never develop PTSD.

PTSD can be treated. Treatment may include talk therapy, medicine, or both. It can be scary to think about getting help for PTSD, but it's important. Without treatment, PTSD can stick around for a long time and lead to other problems, including alcohol or drug use.

Coping with natural disasters, school violence, and other dangers arrow. top

Living through something dangerous can be very upsetting. If this has happened to you, you may feel scared, sad, and much more. Sometimes, just seeing someone else's trauma on TV or reading about it can be very upsetting.

It may take time, but even after a tragedy, your life can be really good again. You can try our tips for dealing with grief. You also can try these tips, which may help after experiencing or hearing about dangers:

  • Take good care of yourself. Make sure to eat well and get enough rest. Any stress you are facing is hard enough by itself. Don't put your body under more strain.
  • Take a break. Turn off the news and put down your phone. Instead, focus on things that are calming, like taking deep breaths or going for a walk.
  • Follow a routine. Having something steady can give you comfort. Try connecting with a friend every day, for example.
  • Make a plan. A tragedy can make us feel out of control. Take back control by setting goals and planning small steps toward them.
  • Release your emotions by talking them out. Talk to someone you trust, like a teacher, parent or guardian, or counselor about your feelings. You might consider a support group, too. If talking seems hard, get your feelings out some other way, like through art or writing.
  • Handle your anger. You might try to calm down by listening to music, praying, or meditating. If someone hurt you or someone you love, it's normal to want to strike back. But hateful words or actions will only cause more problems.
  • See if you can focus on the positive. Think about any uplifting parts of what happened. Did some people act like heroes? Did people come together to support each other? Is your life still really good in some ways?
  • Help out. Helping others affected by a tragedy can feel great. You might donate books or toys to those in need. Even just a message of support can mean a lot to those involved.
  • Look inside yourself to find strength. You may always be affected by what happened, but the feelings will become less painful over time. Think about other times that you found the strength to handle something very hard.

If you have symptoms of PTSD after a trauma, talk to an adult you trust. You can get treatment to feel better.


Content last reviewed January 07, 2015
Page last updated February 13, 2015