If untreated, what are the consequences of PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes with its own set of symptoms and problems to work through. However, it can lead to many other issues when left untreated. These mental health champions discuss the symptoms of PTSD and the potentially lifelong consequences of ignoring them. Read more to understand why seeking professional help is vital to saving yourself or your loved ones from these possibilities.
Ketan Parmar

Ketan Parmar

Psychiatrist and mental health expert at .

May Experience Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Thoughts

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event(s), and extreme emotional distress when reminded of the trauma. People who experience PTSD may also feel detached from their loved ones and struggle with self-destructive behaviors.

The effects of untreated PTSD can be devastating, both for the individual and the people around them. People with PTSD may experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues, suicidal thoughts or actions, physical health problems (such as chronic pain), social isolation, and difficulty maintaining relationships. In addition to this emotional toll, an untreated PTSD diagnosis can also lead to lost wages or career opportunities due to decreased productivity or time away from work.

Psychological Distress, Impaired Functionality, and Physical Health Consequences

The risks of not seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) must be emphasized. PTSD can have a significant impact on many facets of a person’s life, and without the right kind of help, the following issues could develop:

    ● Untreated PTSD can lead to continuing emotional discomfort, worry, and distress; Persistent psychological distress. The person may still experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts that are connected to the traumatic event, which can interfere with their daily lives and general well-being. Feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and helplessness may worsen if symptoms are not treated.

    ● Impaired functionality and quality of life: PTSD can seriously impair a person’s capacity for effective function. Avoiding events or triggers connected to the traumatic incident may restrict their participation in other activities, leading to a limited and lonely existence. Concentration, memory, and decision-making issues might further impair work performance, academic goals, and general life satisfaction.

    ● Relationship issues: If PTSD symptoms are not treated, relationships may become seriously strained. Conflicts and challenges in establishing and sustaining good relationships can result from the emotional and behavioral changes brought on by PTSD, such as impatience, hostility, and emotional numbing. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation may result from this.

    ● Co-occurring mental health disorders: PTSD might make it more likely that other mental health issues will emerge if left untreated. Comorbid disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts are possible in some people. The combination of these ailments can make treatment and recovery more challenging.

    ● Consequences for physical health: People who have untreated PTSD may have chronic stress and dysregulation of their stress response system. The immune system may be weakened, and sleep issues, chronic pain, cardiovascular issues, and a higher risk of contracting various physical health ailments may all result from it.

It is imperative to understand that there are effective treatments for PTSD, such as trauma-focused therapies and medications. The symptoms can be considerably reduced, functionality can be improved, and overall well-being can be improved by seeking expert help. It is never too late to start the process of healing and recovery and to call out for support.

Michelle Giordano

Michelle Giordano

Community Counselor and Outreach Specialist for .
Sherry McClurkin, MS, LCPC

Sherry McClurkin, MS, LCPC

Owner-Therapist and Supervisor at .

A Profound Inability to Trust

As with anything we classify as a mental disorder per the DSM-5-TR, PTSD is on a spectrum. The spectrum has nothing to do with what caused the trauma(s) and everything to do with two factors:

    1. How did the affected person’s brain take in the trauma
    2. Where is the affected person in their healing journey

In general, untreated PTSD is debilitating. Because of trauma(s), a person’s sense of safety and security is harmed and maybe completely shattered. It’s difficult to trust. If the trauma(s) included assaults (of any kind) from those known to the affected person, then they absolutely struggle to trust anyone. When we no longer trust, we fall on believing we have to do it all on our own, we have to figure out all our own problems, and we cannot take in what others offer.

The latter is because the affected person’s brain tells them that everyone is a potential danger. The affected person’s brain no longer sees situations and people in real terms; the affected person’s brain sees situations and people through threat terms. This is what causes the high level of anxiety, panic, and often panic attacks that accompany PTSD. In severe and complex cases, those affected by PTSD have flashbacks.

A flashback is when the brain reacts to a situation or person as if the affected person is living in the trauma event(s) in present real-time, even though, in reality, the affected person is probably safe. I had a client with PTSD who would react in a flashback every time I moved my arm a certain way as I was speaking; I am animated when I speak, so my hands and arms are part of speaking. This client’s PTSD came partly from being beaten by their partner, so a raised arm meant potential danger even though we sat several feet apart, even though it was me and not the person’s partner. An affected person’s brain can’t make a clean, clear distinction between [the] present time and the traumatic event(s).

A person with untreated PTSD probably can’t hold [a] job, can’t make critical life decisions clearly, generally makes those decisions out of fear, and makes poor relationship decisions. Untreated PTSD leaves the affected person’s brain desperate for relief, comfort, and a sense of safety. In severe PTSD cases, substance abuse is high because those substances bring temporary relief. Intimate relationship abuse is also high [among] those with untreated PTSD; the affected person could be the abuser or could be abused.

Relationships are supposed to bring us a sense of belonging, security, and someone to turn to for comfort. So a rush into [a] relationship is common, yet the affected person no longer has access to healthy relationship skills they may know because their brain is focused on that desperate attempt to find relief; at the very same time, the affected person’s brain tells them they can’t fully trust this relationship.

In our daily lives, we probably interact with many people affected by PTSD, and we’d never know it until they either told us or something occurs where they react as if it were life and death. An affected person’s reactions to what their brain is telling them is a threat are often far out of bounds with what the situation actually warrants. So the affected person is reacting as their brain needs them to for protection and survival, yet no one around them can understand why the affected person’s reaction is so huge; this may bring out others’ defensiveness, anger, or other reactivity, and tensions can quickly escalate. Thankfully, the latter does not occur often, though it does occur, and we see it in the news feeds.

Decreased Quality of Life

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a severe mental illness that can develop following exposure to a stressful experience. If left untreated, PTSD can have long-term physical and emotional consequences that can significantly interfere with an individual’s daily life, relationships, and occupational functioning. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares and flashbacks, avoidance of certain situations or activities related to the traumatic event, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, and persistent feelings of fear or sadness.

When PTSD is left untreated, individuals can experience a range of negative outcomes that can include self-destructive behaviors, substance abuse problems, increased risk for suicide or attempted suicide, physical health issues such as chronic pain or heart disease, financial problems, and impaired social functioning. Unfortunately, without proper treatment, individuals may also experience a decrease in quality of life and ongoing emotional distress that will continue to affect them for years.

Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII

Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Executive Clinical Director at .

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