The National Alliance on Mental Illness shared that PTSD affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population, about 9 million individuals, and women are more likely to experience PTSD than men.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is largely misunderstood. Anything from a difficult relationship to abuse, a car accident, or witnessing a crime or a death can result in an individual experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

“A traumatic event — combat, natural disaster, sexual assault or an accident — can take over the way you experience life,” says Marine Corps Community Services, a support program for Marines, their families, retirees and civilians.

J.W. Freiberg, Ph.D., a Boston-based social psychologist and author, says there’s more to PTSD that just feeling stressed or scared.

“As with all mental illnesses, before someone can be diagnosed with PTSD, a list of criteria, stipulated in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), must be met,” he said.

MCCS explained that symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories:

1. Reliving or re-experiencing an event
2. Avoiding things or places that are reminders of an event
3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
4. Consistently being on guard

NAMI conveyed that symptoms of PTSD often begin surfacing within three months after experiencing or being exposed to a traumatic event. However, symptoms may also emerge many years after a difficult experience.

“For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last more than one month. Symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse often accompany PTSD,” says NAMI.

“When we look up the criteria for PTSD, we see that it absolutely fits with what our first responders and medical personnel, and many of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, are experiencing,” said Freiberg. “We will have to observe what happens psychologically to COVID-19’s frontline medical workers, but I would predict a very significant incidence among them in the coming years, and at a very acute level. Preemptive clinical counseling will be crucial.”