PTSD MYTHS AND FACTS #4
MYTH: PTSD occurs immediately after a traumatic event.
FACT: Symptoms of PTSD can take months or years to appear.
When someone goes through a traumatic experience, the assumption may be that if they are going to have symptoms of PTSD, the signs will emerge quite quickly after the event. However, this is not always the case, and some people may not show symptoms of PTSD for years. Formally, this is known as delayed onset PTSD, and is diagnosed if the condition develops at least 6 months after the traumatic event. This affects a small proportion of people with PTSD, with estimates that just 4–6% of this population develop delayed-onset PTSD.
Initially, delayed onset PTSD presented in war veterans who had returned home. It was thought that because the stress response or reactions to traumatic events were not helpful — and potentially life-threatening — in combat, that there was a delay in the reaction to trauma. More recently, alternative explanations have been put forward. For example, an extremely stressful situation can impact the way memories are stored, making them less accessible to conscious thought. People might also change the way they think about a traumatic experience over several months, and their perception of threat might increase. Although symptoms of PTSD typically emerge around three months after a traumatic event, some people may not experience any symptoms at all for a number of years.
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