Trauma disorders are grouped together in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as trauma- and stressor-related disorders. These disorders are similar to each other in that they are all caused, triggered, or worsened by a traumatic event or experience.

Trauma disorders cause fear, extreme anxiety, stress, depression, and other negative emotions. They may even cause nightmares and flashbacks. A trauma disorder also affects a personís behaviors and may cause anger, violent outbursts, social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, and many other negative repercussions, such as loss of work and relationships. Trauma disorders are manageable and can be overcome with consistent, professional treatment.

These traumatic and stressful experiences can include exposure to physical or emotional violence or pain, including abuse, neglect or family conflict. Observing a parent being treated violently, for example, can be a traumatic experience, as can being the victim of violence or abuse. Stressors such as parental separation or divorce or even more severe stressors such as emotional or physical neglect can cause problems when they are prolonged or not addressed by caring adults. Even a move or the birth of a sibling can be a stressor that can cause significant difficulties for some children.

Traumatic eventsósuch as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disasterócan have lasting effects on a personís mental health. While many people will have short term responses to life-threatening events, some will develop longer term symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms often co-exist with other conditions such as substance use disorders, depression and anxiety. A comprehensive medical evaluation resulting in an individualized treatment plan is optimal.


There are several types of trauma disorders, all characterized by the fact that some type of trauma is an underlying cause. Trauma is an subjective experience, so while one event may be easy for one person to cope with, it can be very traumatic for another. Examples of trauma include abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, losing a loved one, a car accident, or sexual assault. The DSM-5 includes criteria for five distinct trauma- and stressor-related disorders:


Each type of trauma disorder causes unique symptoms and has a list of criteria from the DSM-5 that is used to make a diagnosis. However, these related conditions cause many symptoms and characteristic signs that are similar across each different type:


While most mental illnesses have no definite or single cause, trauma disorders can almost always be traced to one or more traumatic experiences. For instance, many men and women returning from active service in the military experienced or witnessed traumatic events, and in some of them these experiences trigger PTSD later.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop a trauma disorder. Two people may experience or witness the same trauma, and one may develop a disorder while the other does not. Why this happens is not fully understood, but there are risk factors that make some people more prone to trauma disorders:


Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months after experiencing or being exposed to a traumatic event. Occasionally, symptoms may emerge years afterward. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last more than one month. Symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance use often accompany PTSD.


Though PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated and managed in several ways.