ptss vs ptsd


Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has been part of everyday language for a generation now (though it first became an official medical term in 1980). Less often heard of, but a legitimate item of concern, is post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), which has similar symptoms and usually begins in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. PTSS may resolve on its own, develop into PTSD, or go “underground” and re-emerge as PTSD months or years later.

PTSS and PTSD Symptoms

A person with PTSS or PTSD will display some or most of the following symptoms

  • Recurring nightmares 
  • Refusal to talk about the traumatic event—or obsessing over ways it might have been avoided, or handled differently 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Jumpiness
  • Chronic fretting or worrying 
  • Mood swings 
  • Pulling away from relationships 
  • Depression 
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness 
  • Intense fear of circumstances or environments associated with the original trauma 
  • Reckless behavior 
  • Memory blackouts 
  • Flashbacks (mentally detaching from current reality and being “swept into” a perceived reenactment of the traumatic event—usually triggered by a sensory experience or situation similar to the setting of the original trauma)
  • Suicidal thoughts. 

The Differences

The main difference between PTSS and PTSD is intensity and duration. PTSS often resolves on its own within a few days or weeks, in which case it is not considered a diagnosable mental disorder. And the more severe post-traumatic symptoms—flashbacks, total loss of self-confidence, suicidal ideation—typically do not occur with PTSS, or are one-time and relatively minor. 

PTSS can develop into PTSD, however (though it’s also possible to survive a traumatic experience without apparent aftereffects, only to develop PTSD seemingly out of the blue months or years later). If post-traumatic symptoms are severe, continue to intensify, interfere with everyday functioning, and/or persist for more than a month, there will likely be a diagnosis of PTSD (chronic PTSD after three months) requiring medical treatment.

Both PTSS and PTSD are sometimes called simply “post-traumatic stress,” further complicating the matter of differentiating them. (“Post-traumatic stress” may also mean simply the state of being temporarily shaken from a frightening experience.)

What to Do

If you suffer a traumatic experience and especially if it was an unanticipated or violent event, it’s a good idea to see a counselor even if you don’t have obvious post-traumatic symptoms. Coming to grips with trauma early on may keep PTSD from developing or from becoming severe enough to cause major problems. If you suspect you already have PTSS or PTSD, don’t wait to see whether it gets worse: talk to a doctor immediately.

A few additional tips:

  • If you are currently in an ongoing traumatic situation such as an abusive relationship, don’t try to “fix it” from within: chances are your best efforts will just enable it to continue. Get away and get help.
  • Get advice on learning self-defense and/or developing your natural talents, to build up resilience and self-confidence.
  • Keeping your body strong will help your mind stay strong: keep in good physical condition through good nutrition, stress management, exercise, and sleep.
  • Exercise your brain regularly, too, to strengthen your mental focus and keep your mind sound.
  • If someone you’re close to has post-traumatic symptoms, convince him or her to get professional help if possible. In any case, seek counseling and advice yourself, and focus on being empathetic and understanding.
  • If someone with trauma symptoms talks about suicide—or if you feel like killing yourself, however briefly—call a suicide hotline for immediate advice. Do not brush such warning signs off: they can turn into reality before anyone realizes what is happening.
  • Know that PTSS/PTSD can be treated and recovery is possible.

Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

Many people with post-traumatic or other mental health disorders also suffer from drug addiction, and recovery from either problem requires treatment for both. Hemet Valley Recovery Center provides addiction detox and rehab along with treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more.