What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that develops following exposure to extreme psychological trauma. Throughout history, PTSD has also been known as railway spine, stress syndrome, shell shock, battle fatigue and traumatic war neurosis.

Fast Facts

  • About 5.2 million adults suffer from PTSD during a given year.
  • About 7 to 8% of people in the U.S. will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 10% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives, compared with only 5% of men.
  • About 30% of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD.
  • About 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans experienced PTSD.
  • About 11 to 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars experience PTSD.

Note of interest

A 2008 study estimated that 300,000 U.S. soldiers would return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD and too few would receive treatment.

What is a Traumatic Event?

  • Witnessing death or injury
  • Physical assault
  • Combat
  • Sexual assault
  • Accidents
  • Natural disaster
  • Child sexual abuse

What are Symptoms of PTSD?

  • Numbness
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Bad memory
  • Hopelessness
  • Self-destruction
  • Nightmares
  • No focus
  • Shame
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks

Note of interest

One of the first descriptions of PTSD was made in 490 B.C. when Herodotus described an Athenian soldier going blind after witnessing the death of a fellow soldier.

What Causes PTSD?

  • Direct exposure to trauma as a victim or witness.
  • Serious harm during a traumatic event.
  • Feeling helpless during a traumatic event.
  • Belief that you or a close relative were in danger during a traumatic event.
  • Experiencing a trauma that was long lasting or very severe.

How is PTSD Treated?

There is no specific medication for PTSD but psychotropic drugs have been shown to reduce symptoms. The most common treatment is counseling and psychotherapy often provided by a social worker. Social workers help those who suffer from PTSD address their feelings and guide them to further resources.

USC School of Social Work


  • http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter4/sec2.html
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
  • http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
  • http://www.nami.org

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

Phone Number: 877-700-4679
Email Address: sswvac@msw.usc.edu


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