What Do Signs and Symptoms of PTSD Look Like?

Lindsay Knake

| 3 min read

Most people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. It can be scary and have a lasting impact. However, a small percentage of people will have a more intense reaction that includes hypervigilance, nightmares, irritability, flashbacks, and depression.
Without treatment, these symptoms can last for years.

What is PTSD?

Trauma is an event or series of events that threaten your sense of safety or your life, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Traumatic events include:
  • Severe injury
  • Car accidents
  • War and combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Bullying
  • The death of a loved one
  • Physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
Although up to 80% of people will experience a traumatic event, PTSD develops in about 6% of those people, according to the National Center for PTSD. PTSD is an individual’s physical and emotional reaction to the event. This can depend on a person’s temperament, any past trauma, age, and level of support immediately after the traumatic experience.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD may start within a month of the event, but some people may not experience symptoms until years later, according to the Mayo Clinic. PTSD can cause significant difficulties in a person’s life, from work to relationships to daily responsibilities. Although symptoms of PTSD are grouped into four categories, someone with PTSD may not experience each of them. Symptoms can change over time and increase with additional stress. To have a diagnosis of PTSD, you must experience symptoms from each category.
The four categories of symptoms are:
  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Physical and emotional reactions
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
  • Invasive memories of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks that feel like you are reliving the event
  • Nightmares
  • Severe distress when you experience a trigger that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
  • Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Attempting to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Hopelessness
  • Lapses in memory, especially about the event
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually love
  • Feeling numb or having difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions may include:
  • Hypervigilance
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Intense shame or guilt
  • Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
If you or a loved one has these symptoms for more than a month at some point following a traumatic event, consider talking to your health care provider. Effective treatment is available for PTSD, including therapy and medications such as antidepressants.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:
PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
This is a free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.