The way post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects individuals varies greatly, ranging from subtle changes in day-to-day life, withdrawal and numbness, to distressing flashbacks or physical anxiety. Symptoms of PTSD may be evident after a month, but sometimes can stay dormant for years.
There isn't just one kind of PTSD because each of our experiences and coping mechanisms is unique.
The majority of people who experience a traumatic event will not develop PTSD. However, if someone experiences symptoms for longer than one month, or symptoms return after a long period of time, it’s important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. The doctor will do a mental health assessment, asking about current symptoms, past history and family history. A physical examination may be carried out to check that there are no other reasons for the symptoms.
The doctor may refer to a psychiatrist or psychologist to carry out a more detailed psychological evaluation. They will ask how long, how often and how intense the symptoms are, and what happened during the triggering event. For a diagnosis of PTSD, the symptoms need to be severe enough to interfere with the person’s ability to function at work, socially or at home. A full diagnosis cannot be made until at least 6 months after the trauma.
Often a diagnosis can come as a relief for someone who has been suffering debilitating symptoms because it provides an explanation and a basis for beginning treatment.
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Last reviewed: November 2016