Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a specific anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing a significant traumatic event. People with depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to develop PTSD―both because having a mood disorder increases the risk of experiencing a traumatic event and because having a mood disorder makes it more likely a person who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD.

Characteristics of PTSD

Characteristics of PTSD include:

  • having experienced an immediate response to a disturbing event which involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror;
  • continually re-experiencing the event (“flashbacks”) through images, dreams, and/or a sense of re-living the experience;
  • avoiding any reminders, thoughts, or people associated with the event, or having memory loss associated with the event;
  • symptoms of increased irritability, such as outbursts of anger, difficulty falling asleep or trouble concentrating;
  • a sense of heightened awareness, exaggerated response to being startled, feelings of impending doom or danger; and
  • symptoms that last longer than one month and impair functioning at work, in relationships or in other areas of life.

Symptoms that occur within the first month after a traumatic experience, but dissipate within four weeks, are known as an acute stress disorder.

PTSD usually occurs within the first three months after a traumatic experience, but in some cases, there is a delay of more than six months before symptoms appear. Length of symptoms varies from person to person. Approximately half of the people affected by PTSD tend to recover within 3 months. For many others, however, symptoms last longer than one year and require treatment in order to improve.

Untreated PTSD potentially lead to other mental and physical health conditions. While talking about these symptoms may be very painful and confusing, these symptoms are treatable, and treatment can bring relief. Having symptoms that do not go away and needing to seek treatment are not character flaws or signs of personal weakness. If your symptoms continue, or if they interfere with your daily functioning, discuss them with your health care provider.

PTSD and Depression

Rates of depression are very high in people who experience PTSD. In one study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 percent of people who had PTSD were experiencing depression one month and four months later. Early intervention is extremely helpful in treating PTSD and depression.