a June PTSD Awareness Month - Part 2: Signs & Symptoms - Wellness and Wisdom

June PTSD Awareness Month - Part 2: Signs & Symptoms

June is Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month: Learn the facts, signs and symptoms, effective treatments, and resources 

Signs and Symptoms

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have experienced one of the following types of trauma:

  • Direct exposure (experiencing the trauma themselves)
  • Witnessing the trauma as it happened to another person
  • Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
  • Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics)

Further, to be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must experience all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms can be triggered from the person’s own thoughts and feelings, words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the traumatic event. These symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over
  • Experience emotional distress
  • Experience physical symptoms like a racing heart, muscle tension, or sweating
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts

Avoidance symptoms

Avoidance symptoms typically occur as a means to push away memories or reminders of the traumatic event. These symptoms include:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Changing his or her typical routine

Arousal and reactivity symptoms

Arousal and reactivity symptoms are typically constant rather than occurring as a result of being triggered like the other symptoms of PTSD.  These symptoms include:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Feeling stressed and/or irritable
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Having angry outbursts

Cognition and mood symptoms

Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event. These symptoms are not due to injury or substance use.

  • Difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts or assumptions about oneself or the world
  • Inappropriate feelings of guilt or blaming oneself for causing the trauma
  • Inappropriately blaming others for causing the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities they use to enjoy
  • Feeling alienated or detached from others, feeling isolated
  • Difficulty with "putting on a happy face"

Symptoms in Children and Teens

Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. In very young children (less than 6 years of age), these symptoms can include:

  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
  • Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult

Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those seen in adults. However, they may also include:

  • Disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors
  • Feeling guilty for not preventing injury or deaths
  • Thoughts about seeking revenge

Where to go for more information and help

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1 (text 838255) or Confidential Veterans Chat with a counselor
  • Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAIN) (24 Hours): 800.656.4673
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.7233
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hope Line: 800.622.2255
  • MedlinePlus offers information in English and en Español .
  • The National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has a website with targeted information for anyone interested in PTSD (including veterans, family, and friends) and for professional researchers and health care providers. The site also offers videos and information about an online app called PTSD Coach.
  • Clinician’s Guide to Medications for PTSD : This material was developed for researchers, providers and helpers by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

To learn more, view Part 1: Learn More and Part 3: Treatment.

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2016, Feb.) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Written by Chelsea Fielder-Jenks, LPC and Therapist at Sage Recovery and Wellness Center

Chelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas with a Master of Arts degree in Health Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Texas State University. She utilizes Cognitive Behavioral and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies and takes a holistic approach to helping others, which considers biological, psychological, environmental, and cultural aspects of their lives.

Chelsea has experience working with individuals, families, and groups at outpatient and inpatient levels of care. Her clinical experience has been in helping individuals with a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, substance use, eating disorders, self-harm behaviors, stress management, and more. Chelsea specializes in treating eating disorders and eating disorder dual diagnoses. She began her experience working with eating disorders as a Practicum Student Therapist at the Eating Disorder Center at San Antonio and Hill Country Recovery Center (HCRC). After earning her Masters degree, Chelsea was then a therapist at HCRC, where she conducted individual and family therapy and facilitated the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program for Eating Disorders. Chelsea also has experience working at Austin Oaks Hospital, where she has served as an inpatient and outpatient therapist and the Interim Director of Outpatient Services. At Sage, Chelsea facilitates the 7-week Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program and Adolescent DBT Skills Group, and conducts individual and family therapy.

Chelsea is certified in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Training from Behavioral Tech, LLC. She is a member of the American Counseling Association and the Austin Eating Disorder Specialists group and an active supporter of the National Eating Disorder Association and the Binge Eating Disorder Association.

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