How Long Does PTSD Last? Does PTSD Ever Go Away?
Because living with PTSD can be a nightmare, common concerns people have include how long PTSD lasts and whether PTSD will ever go away. The exact answer varies from person to person, as PTSD is a very individualized disorder; the nature of the trauma that causes PTSD differs, and each person’s reaction is unique (PTSD Causes: Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). However, certain factors can influence the answer to the questions about how long PTSD lasts and does it ever go away.
Factors Influencing the Duration of PTSD
How long PTSD lasts depends on multiple factors. Some relate to trauma itself, while others relate to the person and his/her life.
Trauma-related factors that impact the duration of PTSD include:
- Multiple or chronic trauma experiences vs. a single traumatic event
- Intentional trauma vs. accidental trauma
- Human-induced trauma vs. natural disasters/traumas
- Sexual assault vs. traumatic event not sexual in nature
Experiencing multiple traumas tends to make PTSD last longer, as do repetitive traumas, intentional traumas, human-induced traumas, and sexual assaults.
Person- and life-related factors that impact the duration of PTSD include:
- History of other traumatic experiences
- Living with other mental health challenges
- Repertoire of coping skills
- Level of social support
In general, PTSD lasts longer in people who have experienced other traumatic events in the past, have current or past mental health difficulties, use fewer coping skills, and have little social support.
Therapy Can Influence How Long PTSD Lasts
Research has proven therapy to be helpful in reducing and overcoming PTSD (PTSD Therapy and Its Role in Healing PTSD). Therapy reduces the duration of PTSD because as the therapist and client work together,
Trauma’s negative impact is decreased and the person can return to his/her earlier level of functioning
The person learns effective, healthy coping skills so PTSD doesn’t last as long
Memories, negative thoughts, and intense feelings become easier to deal with
Healthy new behaviors are learned to replace PTSD-induced avoidance, anger, etc.
Generally, therapy lasts between six and 12 weeks. It may last longer than that, but even so, it still diminishes how long PTSD lasts (Sutton, 2011).
Do Some Parts of PTSD Last Forever?
Often, PTSD can be completely overcome (Does A PTSD Cure Exist?). Sometimes, though, there are lingering effects. Living with PTSD can be a nightmare for multiple reasons, including the fact that positive feelings, trust, and a sense of closeness and intimacy seem out of reach for a long time. With time and treatment, though, most people greatly improve and are once again able to enjoy positive relationships.
However, approximately five- to 10 percent of people who developed PTSD after a trauma continue to have long-term relationship problems (Sutton, 2011). Even when someone experiences ongoing relationship problems, therapy can help diminish them over time. Further, other effects of PTSD disappear, making the lingering relationship difficulties a bit easier to deal with.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (1992), in people who have been raped, the trauma and resulting PTSD may cause permanent physiological changes in the brain (PTSD in Rape and Abuse Victims). These individuals tend to have a lasting inability to
- Accurately gauge the passage of time, so they are very frequently early or late for work/events/obligations, or they don’t show up at all
- See the big picture to determine if a problem is big or small; to these individuals, every little problem seems like a crisis.
Some effects of PTSD do last years or a lifetime, but most do not.
How Long Does PTSD Last? Probably Not Forever
The American Psychiatric Association (2013), in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is optimistic about the prognosis, or expected outcome, of PTSD.
- About half of adults with PTSD fully recover within three months
- For others, PTSD lasts longer than three months but often less than one year
- For some, PTSD can last more than 12 months, and in a few cases, PTSD can last more than 50 years (Viet Nam Veterans Still Living with PTSD 40+ Years Later).
PTSD can last from several months to a year or more. How long PTSD will last for an individual depends on both the trauma and the person. Generally, time, treatment, and support help someone overcome PTSD. PTSD will very likely not last forever.