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6 Common Causes of PTSD

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on February 23, 2024

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition. In some cases, it can severely impact how people live their day-to-day lives. PTSD affects those who have gone through traumatic events. The experience that caused the disorder might have been shocking, scary, or even dangerous. In this article, we’re going to be covering some of the most common causes of PTSD. 

What Does PTSD Look Like?  

It is normal to experience fear during or after a scary situation. Fear is a natural response that helps us protect ourselves. When we feel fear, we are telling ourselves we’re in danger and need to escape an unsafe situation.  

It is even normal to experience that fear a few weeks after the incident occurred. One might have flashbacks, experience anxiety, and/or develop a sense of mistrust.  

With time, these symptoms should fade. If they are still persistent after a month or so, one could be diagnosed with PTSD. Additional symptoms of the disorder include: 

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia, etc.)
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Unwanted thoughts 

PTSD Can Result from Different Experiences 

Not everyone who has experienced trauma develops PTSD. The chance of one developing it depends on several factors including: 

  • The type of incident experienced
  • Family history of depression, anxiety, and other mental health risks
  • One’s inherited temperament
  • Brain chemistry and the body’s regulation of hormones
  • Previous encounters with trauma
  • The presence (or lack of) a support system
  • History with substance abuse 

It’s important to keep in mind that PTSD can be caused by a variety of occurrences. Common causes of PTSD are usually particularly scary or traumatizing. The disorder usually does not occur because of events that are merely upsetting (failing a test, a divorce, etc.).  

The list we are going to be discussing is by no means comprehensive. Rather, it will consist of some of the most common causes that result in PTSD. 

1) War 

When we think of PTSD, many of us most closely associate this disorder with those in the military. According to one estimation from the National Center for PTSD, the condition affects around 15% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  

It is no surprise that combat is one of the most common causes of the disorder. There are many traumatic events that veterans can experience, including: 

  • Roadside attacks
  • Bombings
  • Gunfire
  • Witnessing a fellow service member be injured or killed
  • Sustaining injuries themselves 

When they get home, afflicted veterans can have a hard time adjusting to life outside of the military. They might experience flashbacks of frightening situations. They might constantly think about the traumatic event. Others can see changes in mood, altered sleeping patterns, and severe anxiety.  

The risk of PTSD can arise post-deployment. This is why it’s crucial for veterans to have a good support system. When they are surrounded by friends and family, they are better able to cope with their trauma.  

2) First Responders 

Like with military personnel, first responders are constantly exposed to potentially traumatizing events. Firefighters must put themselves in danger when rushing into burning buildings or handling other emergency situations. Police officers have to confront dangerous criminals. Medics are exposed to horrific scenes and severe injuries.  

Needless to say, those in these types of careers undergo lots of stress and can cause PTSD. It can be hard to leave behind these experiences once you go home.   

3) Personal Assaults 

When your safety is threatened by another, it can be very traumatizing. Some kinds of personal assault that can result in PTSD include: 

  • Mugging
  • Robbery
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Sexual assault or rape

 4) Severe Road Accidents 

Unfortunately, car accidents are a relatively common occurrence. While not all of them are traumatizing enough to cause PTSD, some are severe enough to result in the disorder.  

After a serious accident, one might experience flashbacks. This is most common when the accident involved a loved one and/or resulted in fatalities. This can also happen when the event was particularly scary or large in size. A victim can develop PTSD whether they were directly involved in the accident or just witnessed it. 

PTSD caused by a car accident can be debilitating. It can be difficult for the victim to drive again and carry on with a normal day-to-day life.  

5) When a Loved One Experiences Harm 

PTSD isn’t always caused by events that happen to us. Our loved ones are very important to us, and if something happens to them, we may experience PTSD.  

This is most common when we witness their injury or death. It can also occur if something happens to them very suddenly or unexpectedly.  

It is important for victims to find the resources they need to effectively manage their grief. 

6) Medical Professionals 

We might not think that medical professionals are at risk for PTSD, since it’s their duty to care for injured and sick people. When you consider that doctors, nurses, etc. have to witness trauma day after day, the possibility seems more likely.  

An alarming number of medical professionals suffer from PTSD. There is a lot of stigma that prevents these professionals from seeking help, which is why many don’t. It is important for health care providers to understand that their experiences are valid and that they can get the help they need. 

Seeking Help 

There is no cure for PTSD, but it can be managed with the right treatment plan.  

Everyone’s case is different, meaning certain methods might be more effective for one person than another. For instance, there are different therapies available. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help alter one’s way of thinking about the event to help them better cope. Exposure therapy can help individuals confront their fears in a safe, controlled environment. There are also medications available that can ease symptoms.  

Just keep in mind that no matter what causes one’s PTSD, there is hope for all victims. Clear Behavioral Health can help you or your family member who may be suffering from PTSD. Our mental health outpatient treatment programs (IOP and PHP), available both in person and virtually provide a higher level of care than weekly therapy to support you. Our mental health residential treatment program provides a safe and secure environment for comprehensive care. And if your PTSD is coupled with substance use concerns, our residential rehab program offers comprehensive support and personalized care. Contact us today to discuss the level of care that can best support your healing.

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