PTSD & Depression

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn the definitions of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Depression, and why PTSD may cause depression. You will also read and consider real-world examples to enhance your understanding. Following the lesson, you will be given a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

What Is PTSD?

We often hear of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, in reference to a military veteran. Perhaps we hear that the veteran is angry, abusing alcohol, displaying violent behavior, or is experiencing problems with his familial and friend relationships. But PTSD has another ugly consequence: depression. If the PTSD is bad enough or not treated properly, depression can even lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

The trauma of witnessing others die, or taking lives in war, can certainly lead to PTSD.
Military at war.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is defined by the symptoms following a life-threatening traumatic event. These symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and hyper vigilance due to fear, anxiety, negative thoughts and mood, and avoidance behaviors. Traumatic events may include some of the following examples: a violent sexual assault, a horrific accident, being stuck in a Category 5 hurricane, witnessing a family member die, or having to kill innocent people in war.

Considering these traumatic events, you may easily sympathize with sufferers and understand why someone might be depressed afterward. Let's now quickly take a look at what defines depression in order to properly understand its relationship to PTSD.

Experiencing a traumatic event can cause PTSD and all of the symptoms it entails.

What Is Depression?

Depression is defined as a feeling of intense sadness and low mood, with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and/or guilt. Individuals with depression may experience a lower energy level than normal, an increased or decreased appetite, marked weight gain or weight loss, an increase or decrease in sleep, irritability, a lower ability to concentrate, and/or suicidal and homicidal ideations. (Suicidal ideations are thoughts about killing yourself. Homicidal ideations are thoughts about killing other people or animals.)

Depressive Symptoms in Criteria for PTSD

In order for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, he/she must be experiencing at least two symptoms of a depressed mood or alteration in his/her thinking. These symptoms could include persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world, a lack of interest in activities that were once interesting, an inability to experience positive feelings, and continuous feelings of blame or guilt in relation to traumatic events.

Link Between PTSD and Depression

There are several reasons why depression may occur alongside PTSD. Let's look at some of these contributing factors by considering the following examples, which show how traumatic events lead to depressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

  • Blame

Ronald just spent a year in Iraq. Before the war, he had a wonderful relationship with his wife and children. Now he is having nightmares and flashbacks of killing other people who were completely innocent. Ronald is angry with himself and the military, but takes his anger out on his wife and kids. He drinks alcohol to rid himself of the pain he is experiencing inside. He blames himself for killing all of those people. He thinks that he is worthless and that he should die as well.

  • Shame

Amy, married with two children, was raped in a shopping mall parking lot. She keeps reliving the experience over and over in her head. When someone approaches her from behind, she fearfully jumps away. Amy won't go anywhere alone, especially if it involves parking in a big parking lot. Amy's husband is supportive, but he is struggling with taking the familial responsibilities all on his own. In addition to Amy's PTSD symptoms, she is now starting to feel shame, hopelessness, and worthless to her family because of her inability to cope. Amy's shame has significantly contributed to her depression.

  • Fear

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