Articles & Events | Psychiatric Associates of Iowa CIty

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PTSD: What It Is (and When to Get Help)

June 20, 2018

Most people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with veterans of war. After all, PTSD is a mental health disorder that stems from experiencing a shocking, dangerous, frightening and/or life-threatening event.

But the truth is that anyone can get PTSD. Different types of trauma such as physical or sexual assault, a serious illness, a car accident, natural disaster or exposure to violence can cause a person to develop PTSD.

Not every traumatized person ends up suffering from it — and not everyone who has PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, such as the unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. 

How do you know if it’s PTSD?

A traumatic event causes us to feel fear, which then triggers the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response to avoid or defend against it. And while it’s perfectly normal to struggle with the effects of trauma for a period of time afterward, most people are able to move past it eventually. 

Those who continue to experience problems — usually beyond a few months, although there’s no set timetable — may be diagnosed with PTSD. People with PTSD feel stressed, anxious or scared even when they’re not in danger.  


Adults and teenagers who develop PTSD continue to struggle with intrusive thoughts and emotions related to the traumatic event. 

They may: 

  • Experience flashbacks (or relive the event)
  • Have nightmares
  • Avoid certain places, objects or activities
  • Feel sad or angry
  • Feel detached from other people
  • Startle easily 

In very young children (age 6 and under), symptoms include:

  • Being unusually clingy with parents (or other adults)
  • Forgetting how to speak or being unable to speak
  • Wetting the bed even after being potty-trained
  • Acting out the traumatic event during playtime 

Treating PTSD

While there are many different approaches to PTSD treatment, research shows that a combination of psychotherapy and medication therapy offer the most benefit. However, the journey to recovery is as unique as the person experiencing PTSD — and it’s critical that treatment be tailored to meet an individual’s specific needs. 

If you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD, we can help. Call (319) 356-6352 to schedule an appointment, or use our Request an Appointment form.

Molly O'Brien, DNP, PMHNP-BC

Molly O'Brien helps adults with depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality and other disorders. As a veteran who completed a tour of duty as a combat medic in Iraq, she is also uniquely qualified to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Molly is a firm believer in the power of psychotherapy and medication used together. She also encourages clients to make healthy lifestyle changes.