Can PTSD Cause Depression?

 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that arises due to experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as military combat, physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, or accidents. PTSD is often known to lead to various symptoms such as anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and difficulties in sleeping. However, one of the most severe symptoms of PTSD is depression.

PTSD is known to cause depression due to the ongoing emotional stress that a person experiences over a sustained period. A traumatic experience often leaves an individual in a state of constant distress, exacerbating significant negative feelings and emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger, or despair. This can lead to the development of depression, feelings of worthlessness, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Depression can be especially concerning in people with PTSD because it often leads to them becoming more vulnerable and susceptible to future traumatic events. The combination of PTSD and depression can increase the chances of re-experiencing traumatic events and developing negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or self-harm.

Additionally, PTSD can cause changes in the brain's chemical and hormonal balances, leading to an imbalance in neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. These changes can result in a feeling of low self-esteem, hopelessness, and a lack of motivation to do everyday tasks, thereby leading to depression.

Moreover, PTSD and depression share similar symptoms, such as a lack of appetite, insomnia, and fatigue. The similar symptoms can lead to difficulties in diagnosing depression in people with PTSD, thereby making it challenging to distinguish between the two.

Compare symptoms of PTSD and Depression

The symptoms of depression and PTSD are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

How Common Is Depression Following Trauma?

In any given year, almost 1 in 10 adult Americans has some type of depression. Depression often occurs after trauma. For example, a survey of survivors from the Oklahoma City bombing showed that 23% had depression after the bombing. This was compared to 13% who had depression before the bombing. PTSD and depression are often seen together. Results from a large national survey showed that depression is nearly 3 to 5 times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.

Treatment for PTSD and Depression

Some treatments are able to help both of these co-occurring disorders, especially with overlapping symptoms. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help change thought patterns and behaviors for both PTSD and depression. Also, doctors use the medicine selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) for both disorders.

Depression and PTSD often co-occur, especially as a response to a traumatic experience. Because many of the symptoms of PTSD and depression are the same or similar, it can be difficult to know which one you are facing—or if you have both as co-occurring disorders. A qualified mental health professional and care at a residential treatment facility can provide a proper diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan for your individual situation and help you recover from PTSD and depression.


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