Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t just for soldiers. Trauma can be experienced in everyday life too.
Sooner or later, the universe sends everybody a curveball—from car crashes to hurricanes, or from witnessing a shooting to encountering abuse. They’re all traumatic events, and about 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience at least one traumatic event over the course of their lifetime, according to the National Center for PTSD. For men, it may be an accident, physical assault, or combat. For women, it’s more likely to be sexual assault or child sexual abuse.
When these events happen, it’s natural that you’ll be shaken up for a couple of days. You might have trouble sleeping or difficulty concentrating. But before long, it’s back to normal—for almost everyone.
Those symptoms don’t go away for 7 to 8 percent of people who experience trauma. If months go by and you’re still having any of these symptoms, you might be dealing with PTSD:
- Bad dreams
- Instrusive thoughts
- Reliving a trauma
- Avoiding situations that remind you of a trauma
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling jittery
- Feeling detached from people close to you
“PTSD isn’t just limited to war,” says Arianna Galligher, a licensed social worker and associate director of the Trauma Recovery Center at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Trauma can come in many forms—it can be any event, circumstance, or set of circumstances that are physically or emotionally harmful and have lasting adverse effects on a person’s functioning or sense of well-being. It can impact anyone.”
What else you should know: PTSD is treatable, and early intervention with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication can be effective. That’s why it’s helpful to understand how likely it is that a person’s trauma will lead to PTSD.
Are You at Risk for PTSD?
Why do some people get PTSD and some don’t? It’s complicated.
“A growing body of research indicates that genetic factors may make people vulnerable to PTSD,” explains Galligher. “And a person’s sex, IQ, prior trauma exposure, current mental disorders, and even personality factors play a role too.”
Because PTSD can last for years, researchers have been looking into exactly what makes some people more prone to the condition. “Even environmental factors can increase your risk of PTSD,” says Galligher. “If you grew up with inconsistent caregivers, or poverty, or housing instability, that also increases your vulnerability.”
On the other hand, there are also factors that can help prevent PTSD, Galligher says. “Support from parents, friends, family, school, and community can serve as a foundation for developing resilience skills that protect against the development of PTSD.”
In an attempt to quantify who may or may not develop the condition, psychologists at New York University compiled a list of more than 800 factors that seem to put people at a greater risk for developing PTSD, according to a study in BMC Psychiatry. However, the list isn’t foolproof—everyone’s experiences and reactions are different. But it does offer insight into risk factors for PTSD.
These questions reveal some of the top indicators that someone may develop PTSD after a traumatic event.
1. What Kind of Injury Did You Suffer?
Some traumatic events are more physically devastating than others. Head injuries are one of the strongest predictors that PTSD might be in your future.
“Head trauma may occur alongside a traumatic event,” says Galligher. “There’s some evidence that the presence of mild traumatic brain injury may increase a person’s vulnerability to PTSD.”
If you’ve had a head injury, be sure to stay in touch with your doctor, and be aware of any developing PTSD symptoms.
2. How Long Did You Stay in the Emergency Department?
Don’t count the time you spent sitting in the waiting room. Instead, think about how long you were treated by the doctors, nurses, and technicians. The more time you spent being treated, the more likely you are to have had a serious injury and to eventually experience the symptoms of PTSD.
3. Have You Sought Help for PTSD Symptoms?
If you’ve noticed symptoms that worried you enough to reach out for help, that’s a strong indicator that your injury may have resulted in PTSD. Seeking help is a good thing—so trust your gut. It may be telling you that there’s something serious going on. Be sure to share your concerns with your primary care doctor, a mental health clinician, or a trusted friend.
If you’re a veteran, you can find VA locations here. If you’re a veteran or a service member in crisis, you can also call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or chat with them online.
4. How Much Pain Are You In?
The traumatic event you experienced might have been a car crash or a physical attack. If that’s the case, you may be dealing with significant pain. Higher pain levels after a traumatic event are a strong indicator of developing PTSD, according to a study in Pyschological Medicine.
5. What Is Your Gender?
Anyone can get PTSD, but research shows that if you’re a woman, you have a 16 percent chance that your traumatic event will turn into full-blown PTSD, compared with a man’s chance of 9 percent, according to a study in World Psychiatry.
6. Is PTSD in Your Genes?
Maybe. PTSD symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks, as well as depression and irritability, were associated with genetic differences, according to a study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
There are also differences in how people respond to some common PTSD medications, such as antidepressants. This is a good reason to talk to your clinician about Genomind® Professional PGx Express™, which can help your clinician personalize your treatment options.
The Genomind test looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:
- Which medications will likely be the most effective
- Which medications may have side effects
- How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance
The Genomind test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn more about Genomind here.
If you are a veteran, PTSD treatment and the Genomind test are available through the VA. Find your local VA here.
The Bottom Line
Keep an eye on your family and friends—and yourself—after a traumatic event. If severe symptoms continue for more than a month, it could be PTSD. If symptoms seem to get better more rapidly, it could still be a similar but less serious condition known as acute stress disorder. Either way, it’s a good idea to seek help.
Does Your Medication Work for You?
Get a lifetime of smarter mental health treatment guidance. Genomind’s leading pharmacogenetic test was designed to help your clinician personalize your treatment plan based on your genetic profile.