How long does PTSD last?

Nia Coppack
Author: Nia Coppack Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stressor-related mental health condition that is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including flashbacks, avoidance, being easily startled, and ongoing negative thoughts and emotions, among others.

Although not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, those that do usually develop symptoms within months of an individual experiencing a traumatic event, such as war, natural disasters, assault, or abuse, although symptoms can sometimes appear later. [1]

How long do PTSD symptoms last?

The length of time that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is experienced varies significantly depending on the person, the type of trauma experienced and whether effective treatment is received. Some may recover within six months, whereas for others it can become a chronic condition, lasting a lifetime. PTSD is an intensely personal experience, and, as with most mental illnesses, no two cases are the same. [2]

PTSD symptoms usually present soon after a traumatic event is experienced or witnessed, for most these symptoms will lessen and disappear with time. However, if they remain untreated, they can last for years or potentially for the remainder of the individual’s life. Those that experience PTSD symptoms over a long period may find that they aren’t consistent in their severity, but that symptoms come and go over time and are triggered by stress or other intense emotion. [3]

What are the stages of PTSD?

There are five stages of PTSD – not every stage is experienced equally by all who develop PTSD [4]:

  • Impact or Emergency Stage – this is the period immediately after the traumatic event. The individual will likely be struggling to process what they have seen or experienced.
  • Denial or Numbing Stage – this stage may not be experienced by everyone who develops PTSD. Those that do go through it will attempt to protect or numb themselves by denying the traumatic event occurred. Denial is a common protective reaction to overwhelming difficult emotions.It is the mind’s way of defending itself from any further pain. Professional treatment can help individuals suffering from PTSD to confront their trauma in order to move forward and begin to heal.
  • Rescue Phase – also known as the intrusive or repetitive stage. During this stage, the individual comes to terms with their trauma. Theyacknowledge what has happened to them and are actively dealing with the shock and distress. This can often be the most destructive stage as the individual deals with intense emotional distress, such as confusion, despair, or hopelessness.
  • Short Term Recovery or Intermediate Stage –In this stage, the individual with PTSD starts to adjust back to ‘normal’ life after the initial survival instincts have been assuaged. It may also include a new level of acceptance and understanding of the trauma they experienced and how it affects their lives. This is likely accompanied with a more hopeful outlook for the future and includes some longer-term plans for PTSD recovery. As well as the more positive emotions, there will likely be small setbacks and shifts back to the rescue stage but with compassionate treatment can be overcome.
  • Long term reconstruction or recovery stage – When the individual with PTSD starts to implement a long-termrecovery plan, they have entered the recovery stage. Coping mechanisms are devised and started to be used to address PTSD symptoms and these are integrated into daily life. The fifth and final stage may take a long time to implement fully, and setbacks are common especially when the individual goes through times of stress. However, with coping mechanisms and skills learnt through PTSD treatment programmes they can be managed.
  1. The National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  2. S. Department of Veterans, 2022. How does PTSD develop and How Long does it last?,fairly%20constant%20level%20of%20severity
  3. Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation, 2023. How long does PTSD last?
  4. The Banyans, 2023. The five stages of PTSD.
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Nia Coppack
Author Nia Coppack Writer

Nia Coppack is a medical writer and mentor with a background in Biochemical Engineering and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Newcastle University.

Published: Sep 25th 2023, Last edited: Nov 10th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Sep 25th 2023