There's no "right" or "wrong" way to feel after a traumatic experience. Everyone reacts to trauma differently, but it's not unusual to feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Sometimes those feelings come on right away but fade quickly. In other cases, they can linger or get worse. Some people don't react strongly until months or even years after a trauma has occurred.
It’s normal to find yourself worrying, crying, having nightmares, or feeling angry after you go through something traumatic. But if your symptoms interfere with your ability to function and it's been that way for more than a month, then you might need help from a mental health professional.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
People who live through any kind of traumatic event -- like war, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster --have a higher chance of a mental health disorder called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Not everyone who goes through trauma will get PTSD. Most adults won’t. But for those who do, it's important to get treatment.
People who have PTSD have persistent, overwhelming feelings of anxiety. They often have nightmares about the trauma or replay the event in their mind over and over. They may go to great lengths to avoid anything that reminds them of it. Many people with PTSD also become depressed, and some get suicidal. Abusing drugs or alcohol to dull the discomfort is also common.
Someone who has PTSD may have physical symptoms, too. They may be tired or have headaches or stomachaches. They may notice that their heart often races and they feel sweaty -- both signs of anxiety. People around them may notice that their friend is jumpy and easily startled.
PTSD can take a toll on relationships, too. Feelings of depression and trust issues after a trauma may make you feel disconnected from friends and family. It can also make it very hard to make new connections.
Other Mental Health Disorders
PTSD isn't the only problem linked to trauma. Going through a traumatic event, especially if it happens during childhood, raises your chances of a wide range of mental health issues.
Studies have shown that most people who seek inpatient treatment for personality disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, or depression were exposed to some type of trauma (like a physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) when they were children.
Again, not everyone who goes through a trauma -- even during childhood -- will have these types of serious, long-lasting consequences. But it’s possible.
If you or a loved one shows signs of struggling, talk to your doctor or a mental health expert. It doesn't matter if the trauma happened recently or years ago. What matters is that help is needed now.
If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.