WACO, Texas — While not every trauma leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates about 12 million adults have it during any given year.The VA reports roughly 6% of the US population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
Studies show roughly 60% of men will experience a traumatic incident in their lifetimes. That number is slightly lower at 50% for women. Despite how common it is, there's a lot that people don't know about the mental illness.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is defined as developing in people who have experienced a shocking, traumatic or dangerous event.
Trauma impacts people in different ways. While some may experience symptoms immediately after the event, others might take a while to process what they went through.
"Sometimes our bodies are really good at blocking things out," Aranza Torres, a Licensed Master of Social Work and therapist at the Heart of Texas Counseling Center, said. "Typically, it's to protect ourselves. So sometimes we might not see PTSD until much later."
Symptoms of PTSD can include realistic flashbacks or nightmares, paranoia, and constantly assessing potential threats around you. People might avoid sounds, places, or other people who could trigger a memory of the event.
"Often times it leads to just significant effects in all parts of an individual's life," Torres said. "In their occupation, in their interpersonal relationships, in their ability to be independent - just kind of creates general disfunction all over."
"It's much like cancer, the earlier you recognize it and begin to deal with it the much much better off you are," Executive Director of the PTSD Foundation of America David Maulsby said.
While PTSD is not exclusive to combat veterans, it can be common after leaving the military. The VA estimates between 15% and 30% of service members experience PTSD in their lifetimes.
"They get home and feel very disoriented, disconnected and they can begin to isolate, or self-medicate and things can get dark very quickly," Maulsby said. "It's increasingly important that our family members and friends to see those early signs."
PTSD Foundation of America works with veterans and their families to help them manage their symptoms. The foundation brings veterans from all over the country to Houston for their recovery camps.
"We've had some veterans come to us that had lost everything," Maulsby said. "Many of them had attempted suicide, felt hopeless. Then 2 or 3 years later they have a new family, got married, are buying their first house, have a job and they are very highly functioning."
Experts say recovery is possible if the person is ready to seek and accept the help.
"Recovery is always possible and it looks different for each person," Torres said. "In my sessions with my clients, as we're identifying goals it's about what that person sees in their life. Recovery is always possible."
People diagnosed with PTSD may put off seeking help because they don't think others will understand what they are going through, but the disorder is actually much more common than many realize.