Although associated with war related activities it can result from many other types of traumatic events as well, including physical or sexual assault, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans and has been known by numerous other names including “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”

A person may also develop PTSD after witnessing a violent or traumatic event that someone else experienced. It is believed that somewhere between 2 and 9 percent of the general population has some level of PTSD. War veterans are overly represented in this group, and it is believed that somewhere between 15 and 30 percent of those who served in Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD, and it can develop at any age.

Feelings of anxiety, shock, fear, or depression after a traumatic event are not uncommon, however, for those with PTSD, the feelings may persist, become consuming, and keep the person from being able to carry out their daily activities.

Most people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. These are called flashbacks. Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring on the street. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.*

Signs and Symptoms

  1. Hyper-vigilance
  2. Over-active startle response
  3. Frequent, recurrent, and intrusive thoughts about the event that may interfere with daily activities and relationships
  4. Strong emotional responses to things that remind of the event
  5. Irritability
  6. Lack of interest in former activities
  7. Difficulty concentrating
  8. Sleep disturbance
  9. Nightmares
  10. Avoidance of things that remind of the event
  11. Emotional numbness
  12. Limited range of emotions
  13. Difficulty with emotional and physical closeness
  14. Flashbacks
  15. Increased aggression
  16. Feelings of hopelessness that things will improve
  17. Thoughts of suicide

Types of Treatment

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy is a form of talk therapy that helps people to examine the thoughts that influence their choices and behavior. Cognitive therapy challenges irrational thoughts and works to replace them with more rational ones.

Family Systems Therapy

This refers to a number of different therapy models that recognize that families influence who we are. The messages we learn from our families can help us to cope with stress later in life, or they can create unhealthy styles of coping. Family Systems Therapies help us to explore and use the role of family relationships, legacies, spoken and unspoken messages, and styles of communication to heal from issues that cause us distress in the present.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR has been found to be a highly effective form of treatment for PTSD, but while effective, not all with PTSD are candidates for the treatment. EMDR is based on a theory that distressing symptoms arise when traumatic events are not adequately processed, and that they can be eradicated when the memory is fully processed. It uses a highly structured approach to address past, present, and future, aspects of traumatic memories. Most specifically, it attempts to stimulate both sides of the brain as a client recalls the traumatic memory. It is a treatment that can be used along with other treatment modalities. For more information about EMDR click here.

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)

ACT is a service-delivery model that provides comprehensive, locally based treatment to people with serious and persistent mental illnesses. Unlike other community-based programs, ACT is not a linkage or brokerage case-management program that connects individuals to mental health, housing, or rehabilitation agencies or services. Rather, it provides highly individualized services directly to consumers. ACT recipients receive the multidisciplinary, round-the-clock staffing of a psychiatric unit, but within the comfort of their own home and community. To have the competencies and skills to meet a client’s multiple treatment, rehabilitation, and support needs, ACT team members are trained in the areas of psychiatry, social work, nursing, substance abuse, and vocational rehabilitation. The ACT team provides these necessary services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.**

Family Education and Support

When families understand and can recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD they are able to be of greater support to the individual who suffered the trauma. Family Education programs attempt to provide critical information about how PTSD, what sort of interventions are helpful, and stress relief to family members all in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the need for mental health hospitalization.

Request Treatment

If you would like more information or an assessment by a mental health professional you can contact Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services at 1-866-682-2166 or e-mail at

* Information courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness