What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury. (American Psychiatric Association)

Sometimes we experience something so horrific or stressful that our brains can’t make sense of what has happened. Because we are unable to move through the second stage of processing, our brain can return us to the exact same emotional and physical state as when the traumatic event occurred, especially when triggered. Factors that make developing PTSD more likely inherited mental health risks, personality factors, and biological factors.

The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person and can emerge soon after the traumatic event—or years later. PTSD sufferers may try to hide their symptoms from close friends and family. They may not even share that they’ve suffered a traumatic event.

This guide will help PTSD patients and their families understand the disorder and what can be done to manage it.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition or diagnosis resulting from a physically or emotionally damaging event or life situation. The triggering life situation need not be a specific event, or something that happens to the patient. The sudden death of a loved one could be a triggering event. So could a long period of emotional abuse.

The event or situation does not “cause” PTSD. Two people who experience the same traumatic event both will not necessarily both develop PTSD.

What are some risk factors of PTSD?

The National Institute of Mental Health has identified these risk factors for developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Living through dangerous events and traumas
  • Getting hurt
  • Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body
  • Childhood trauma
  • Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
  • Having little or no social support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
  • Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse


Is PTSD a disability?

Yes, PTSD is considered a disabling condition by the Social Security Administration and by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Those living with PTSD who qualify, and have documented evidence of their condition, may be eligible for payment of disability benefits.

Getting disability benefits can be a long process, even if a patient meets all the criteria. Eligible patients are sometimes even rejected the first time they apply — though, if they keep trying, they may be able to get their benefits.

To receive Social Security Benefits, someone living with PTSD must meet these qualifications:

Medical documentation of all of the following

  • Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence
  • Subsequent involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (for example, intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks)
  • Avoidance of external reminders of the event
  • Disturbance in mood and behavior, and
  • Increases in arousal and reactivity (e.g., exaggerated startle response, sleep disturbance).


1) Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning

  • Understand, remember, or apply information
  • Interact with others
  • Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace
  • Adapt or manage oneself

2) The disorder is persistent—you have a medically documented history going back at least two years that includes both treatment, therapy, or support.

You must also meet the marginal adjustment criteria—that is, have limited ability to deal with changes to your daily life (such as those that holding a job would require).

To receive VA benefits, someone living with PTSD must be a veteran of the armed forces and meet certain qualifications.

  • The traumatic event happened during your service, and
  • You can’t function as well as you once could because of your symptoms, and
  • A doctor has diagnosed you with PTSD.

Traumatic events do not necessarily need to be combat related. Any veteran who suffered a serious injury, personal or sexual trauma or sexual violation, or was threatened with injury, sexual assault, or death, during their service, may be eligible.

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