Last Updated on January 18, 2024

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assault.

Understanding PTSD

PTSD is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is a complex disorder with a wide variety of symptoms. There are four main symptom clusters: 

  • Re-experiencing the event through intrusive memories or nightmares
  • Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or external reminders
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition
  • Changes in arousal and reactivity associated with the event

Physicians have documented the concept of PTSD since at least the 19th century. The term itself was coined after the Vietnam War when veterans returned with severe psychological trauma. PTSD was officially recognized as a disorder by the APA in 1980 when it was included in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III).

According to mental health organizations, about 3.5 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 have PTSD in a given year. These estimates translate to about 5.2 million people suffering from PTSD annually. PTSD can affect people of any age, including children and adolescents, but research shows it is more prevalent in women than men.

The aftereffects of PTSD can significantly impair a person’s daily functioning, from maintaining work performance to engaging in healthy relationships. PTSD has also been linked to higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, drug use, and suicide risk. Economists estimate that the societal cost of PTSD in the U.S. is over $42 billion per year.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. They are generally grouped into four types:

1. Intrusive Memories

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

2. Avoidance

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event

3. Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb

4. Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

Traumatic Events Leading to PTSD

  • Combat exposure
  • Childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Serious accidents such as a car crash
  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes
  • Witnessing violence or the unexpected death of others

The disorder can occur at any age, and symptoms may begin immediately after the traumatic event or emerge months or years later. Those with chronic PTSD often oscillate between periods of emotional numbing and painful re-experiencing of memories related to the trauma.

Causes and Triggers of PTSD

  • Experiencing or witnessing violence, abuse, accidents, disasters, etc.

PTSD can result from personally undergoing or witnessing a traumatic event. This includes combat, childhood physical or sexual abuse, physical assault, sexual violence, being kidnapped or taken hostage, terrorist attacks, serious accidents, or natural disasters.

  • Combat exposure for veterans

In veterans, PTSD is commonly associated with combat experience. It is estimated that about 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD.

  • Childhood trauma or abuse

When PTSD symptoms develop in children after trauma exposure, it can profoundly impact developmental progression. Child abuse is associated with an increased likelihood of developing PTSD later in life.

Process for Clinical Diagnosis

  • Assessment of trauma exposure – The provider will ask for details about any traumatic events experienced or witnessed.
  • Review of emotional and physical symptoms – The patient will be asked to describe any PTSD symptoms they may be experiencing.
  • Mental health evaluation – The provider evaluates symptom duration, timing of onset, level of distress/impairment, and exclusion of other potential causes.
  • Use of criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – The provider determines if the patient meets the specific DSM-5 criteria to clinically diagnose PTSD.
  • Testing and scales – Questionnaires, interviews, and testing may be used to help confirm a PTSD diagnosis and gauge symptom severity. Examples are the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 and the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale.
  • Ongoing monitoring – Since PTSD symptoms can vary over time, providers will continue to monitor them during the course of treatment.

The process involves a complete physical and psychological assessment by a qualified mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important for developing an appropriate treatment approach.

Treatments and Coping Mechanisms

Treatment for PTSD typically includes psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.


Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy for PTSD involves:

  • Cognitive Therapy
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)


The most commonly prescribed types of medications for PTSD are antidepressants, which may help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside.

Coping and Support

Managing PTSD is an ongoing process. Individuals with PTSD can:

  • Educate themselves about PTSD
  • Follow their treatment plan
  • Take care of themselves
  • Break the cycle of negative thoughts

Recovery and Healing

The primary goals of PTSD treatment are relieving symptoms, improving coping abilities, preventing relapse, and restoring quality of life. With professional help and self-care, many people with PTSD see significant improvement and can regain emotional and psychological well-being.

Healing Process Timeline

  • Early treatment phase – Focused on symptom stabilization, building healthy coping mechanisms and processing the trauma. Can take around 3 months.
  • Middle phase – Works on altering unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs related to the event. Typically lasts 6-9 months.
  • Late phase – Solidifies changes in outlook and worldview to support functioning. May take 12+ months.
  • Maintenance phase – Prevents relapse of PTSD symptoms long-term through continued use of coping strategies.

The timeline varies substantially based on trauma type, duration and severity. But commitment to treatment can help most PTSD patients achieve full remission.

Support Groups and Resources

Seeking connection with others going through similar struggles can assist the healing journey.

The Legal Process for PTSD Claims

Navigating the legal aspects of PTSD claims involves several key steps:

  1. Proving Liability and Negligence: Establishing that the trauma causing PTSD resulted from someone else's negligence is crucial. 
  2. Documenting PTSD Diagnosis: A formal PTSD diagnosis from a healthcare professional is essential. 
  3. Seeking Compensation For:
  • Medical Expenses
  • Lost Income
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Loss of Companionship
  • Lower Quality of Life

Get the Support You Deserve

If you're facing PTSD challenges after a traumatic injury, know your rights and options. The Porter Law Group is committed to helping you secure fair compensation for the emotional and psychological impact for personal injuries in New York. 

We work on a contingency basis with no fees unless you win, and we are dedicated to guiding you through the legal process with care and professionalism. Contact us at 833-PORTER9 or for a free consultation and expert legal support tailored to your PTSD from an injury case.

Written By
Michael S. Porter
Personal Injury Attorney
Originally from Upstate New York, Mike built a distinguished legal career after graduating from Harvard University and earning his juris doctor degree from Syracuse University College of Law. He served as a Captain in the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, gaining expertise in trial work, and is now a respected trial attorney known for securing multiple million-dollar results for his clients while actively participating in legal organizations across Upstate NY.
Legally Reviewed on January 9, 2024
Eric C. Nordby
Personal Injury Attorney
Eric, with nearly three decades of experience in personal injury litigation, holds a law degree with honors from the University at Buffalo School of Law and a Bachelor's Degree from Cornell University. His extensive career encompasses diverse state and federal cases, resulting in substantial client recoveries, and he actively engages in legal associations while frequently lecturing on legal topics.
This Article Was Professionally Reviewed
This page was Legally Reviewed by Eric C. Nordby on January 9, 2024. Our experts verify everything you read to make sure it's up to date. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have any questions about our content please contact us.
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