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what is PTSD

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.  It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.  If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.


Battling PTSD Triggers:The Effects of Sexual Assault

Anyone who survives a serious traumatic event can potentially develop symptoms of the mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. However, research shows that survivors of sexual assault have especially strong chances of eventually qualifying for a PTSD diagnosis. If you have the disorder, you may involuntarily relive or re-experience the source of your trauma if you’re exposed to anything that triggers memories of that trauma. Fortunately, therapies exist that can help you overcome your sexual assault-related PTSD triggers.



Read Throught Our FAQ To Learn

frequently asked questions


    Most people who live through major trauma don’t develop PTSD. Unfortunately, survivors of sexual assault and rape have particularly high chances of experiencing symptoms of the disorder. In fact, the overwhelming majority of rape victims experience at least some PTSD symptoms within just two weeks, even though they can’t receive an official diagnosis in such a brief span of time. Almost a third of all women continue to experience their symptoms nine months after being raped. Overall, more than two-thirds of all victims of sexual assault and rape develop stress reactions that qualify as moderate or severe.


    PTSD triggers can be anything that causes a person with post-traumatic stress disorder to experience a flare-up of symptoms. The types of triggers than provoke such a reaction can vary widely from person to person. However, they commonly include such things as:

    • Witnessing an event or situation that reminds you of the source of your trauma
    • Seeing images that remind you of your traumatic experience
    • Visiting places that remind you of your traumatic experience
    • Hearing words or phrases that act as trauma reminders

    In a study published in 2005 in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, a team of British researchers explored the connection between unwanted memories in survivors of sexual assault and the severity of PTSD symptoms. These researchers found that assault survivors who are easily and frequently triggered by visual reminders of their trauma can experience a sharp increase in their symptom intensity.


    These symptoms may not be exactly the same for everyone. Each person experiences symptoms in their own way.

    1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). You may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you’re going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
    2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
    3. Having more negative beliefs and feelings. The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel guilt or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. You may feel that the world is dangerous and you can’t trust anyone. You might be numb, or find it hard to feel happy.
    4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. You might suddenly get angry or irritable, startle easily, or act in unhealthy ways (like smoking, using drugs and alcohol, or driving recklessly.

    PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.

    Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.


    People with PTSD may also have other problems. These include:

    • Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
    • Depression or anxiety
    • Drinking or drug problems
    • Physical symptoms or chronic pain
    • Employment problems
    • Relationship problems, including divorce

    In many cases, treatments for PTSD will also help these other problems, because they are often related. The coping skills you learn in treatment can work for PTSD and these related problems.


    “Getting better” means different things for different people. There are many different treatment options for PTSD. For many people, these treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense. Your symptoms don’t have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.


    Psychotherapy, or counseling, involves meeting with a therapist.

    • Trauma-focused psychotherapy, which focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning, is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are different types of trauma-focused psychotherapy, such as:
      • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel.
      • Prolonged Exposure (PE) where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. This will help you get more control over your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You also go to places or do things that are safe, but that you have been staying away from because they remind you of the trauma.
    • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories.

    “Getting better” means different things for different people. There are many different treatment options for PTSD. For many people, these treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense. Your symptoms don’t have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.

More Information on PTSD

useful videos

  • PTSD Symptoms And Signs (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

  • Understanding PTSD's Effects on Brain, Body, and Emotions

  • Trauma is irreversible. How it shapes us is our choice

  • PTSD and sexual abuse

  • what it is like to have PTSD

  • PTSD Symptoms And Signs (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)


For immediate assistance, please call the Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119 or TDD (800) 621-4202

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Emory’s Veterans Program helps treat PTSD and TBI

Our program offers post-9/11 veterans expert and collaborative care to help heal the invisible wounds of war.

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GET HELP 24/7:

  • Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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PTSD and Addiction

Many people that suffer from drug or alcohol addiction have other underlying causes.  Some that experience PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate as an attempt to alleviate symptoms or forget the experience.

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