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Nov 16 2022

PTSD in Adults: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or extremely stressful event. e.g., rape, robbery, murder, and natural disasters like flooding and earthquakes. 

PTSD in adults may also be caused by repeated exposure to violence or trauma. First responders (police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians) who respond to crimes, accidents, and emergencies daily, fall under this category.

Anybody can be affected by PTSD — young, old, male, or female. But women are 50% more likely to suffer from PTSD than men.

Stressed african businesswoman suffering from headache at work.

What Types of Trauma Can Cause Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

For a long time, people believed only soldiers and war veterans could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but it’s not that way anymore.

Anyone can experience PTSD, and any event causing severe shock and distress can trigger post-traumatic stress, whether emotional or physical.

What are the most common types of trauma that cause PTSD in adults?

  • War and conflict
  • Serious accidents
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Physical assault
  • Severe health problems
  • Childhood, domestic, and emotional abuse
  • Childbirth experiences such as painful labour, miscarriages, or losing a child
  • The death of a loved one

Symptoms of PTSD In Adults

People experience PTSD differently. For some people, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may start about a month after the traumatic event; but in some cases, they may not set in for years.

Regardless, symptoms of PTSD in adults can cause significant disturbances in their lives, having lasting impacts on their personal and social lives, work, and relationships.

PTSD symptoms in adults are grouped into four categories: avoidance, intrusive memories, negative changes in mood and behavior, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.


Depressed woman with PTSD crying.


When a person displays avoidance symptoms of PTSD, they tend to avoid talking about the event. They also avoid people, places, situations, or things associated with the trauma that may cause distressing memories.

People who display avoidance symptoms try not to remember the event and will avoid sharing how they feel about their trauma. Oftentimes, they pretend it never happened.

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories are distressing and unwanted memories of a traumatic event, usually in the form of flashbacks and nightmares. For some people, these intrusive memories are so strong that it feels as though they’re reliving the event.

Intrusive memories may be triggered in people if they see something/someone associated with a traumatic event, visit the place where an incident happened, or find themselves in the same situation that was precursory to the traumatic experience.


Stressed african businesswoman suffering from PTSD at work.

Negative Changes in Mood and Behaviour

Another way that PTSD in adults can manifest is through adverse changes in their mood or behaviour. Mood changes may involve irritability, anger, horror, guilt, depression, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

These negative changes can also manifest in the following ways:

  • Feeling numb
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed (anhedonia)
  • Feeling detached from loved ones
  • Inability to express positive emotions
  • Memory problems, which could include forgetting parts of the traumatic incident
  • Blaming themselves for the event and its consequences

Changes in Physical and Emotional Reaction

This category of symptoms is also known as arousal and reactive symptoms. They include:

  • Being overly suspicious of people and the environment
  • Outbursts of irritability and anger
  • Becoming startled and frightened
  • Self-destructive behaviour such as over-drinking and reckless driving
  • Trouble with sleep and concentration

Sad woman crying in her bedroom.

How is PTSD Diagnosed?

Before PTSD in adults can be diagnosed,

  • they must have experienced PTSD symptoms for at least three months
  • the symptoms must have been interfering with their daily life, causing significant problems in function and productivity.

Also, in the process of diagnosis, the mental health professional will ask crucial questions and may need your past medical history, so they can get an accurate diagnosis.

How is PTSD in Adults Treated?

Many people with post traumatic stress disorder need professional help to recover from the intense and debilitating psychological they’re going through.

It’s advisable to receive treatment for PTSD as soon as possible; because the earlier you get help, the better your chances of recovery; the faster you’ll recover.

Mental health experts such as psychiatrists, psychotherapists and psychologists use different, effective and research-proven methods to help people with PTSD.

These treatment methods can be broadly categorized into two, and they may be used together or independently — depending on individual needs.

A young lady discussing with a therapist abput PTSD in adults.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a category of psychotherapy proven to be effective in treating PTSD. The following are types of CBT used to treat PTSD in adults:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: This uses thorough, detailed and repeated images and triggers of the trauma in a controlled environment to help a person cope better with them and learn to manage them.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: This type of CBT focuses on helping a person suffering from PTSD confront and process their emotions regarding their trauma. It also helps to correct negative and distressing beliefs that they may have about themselves and the world.
  • Group Therapy: This brings together victims of similar types of trauma, and has them share their experiences. It helps them build a sense of fellowship and strength.


Antidepressants can help to control some of the main symptoms of PTSD in adults, especially the physical ones, like insomnia, nightmares, and anxiety. Medication can be used alone, or together with psychotherapy.

Key Takeaway

If you think you have PTSD, reach out to a mental health professional immediately. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need to connect with one, and feel free to ask any questions about PTSD or mental health in general.

I’m rooting for you! 💜

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