Urinary norepinephrine and epinephrine levels (microgram/day) were measured at two-week intervals during the course of hospitalization in the following patient groups: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); major depressive disorder (MDD); bipolar I, manic (BP); paranoid schizophrenia (PS); and undifferentiated schizophrenia (US). The mean norepinephrine level during hospitalization was significantly higher in PTSD (76 +/- 10.4 micrograms/day) than in BP (60.6 +/- 8.4 micrograms/day), MDD (41.2 +/- 4.7 micrograms/day), PS (33.4 +/- 4.9 micrograms/day) and US (34.3 +/- 5.9 micrograms/day) groups, according to Duncan's multiple range test, (F(4,39) = 6.94, p less than 0.0003). The norepinephrine elevations in the PTSD group were sustained throughout hospitalization. The only other group to show mean levels in this range was the BP group in the first sample after hospital admission. This finding supports prior psychophysiological studies indicating increased sympathetic nervous system activity in PTSD patients. The mean epinephrine level during hospitalization was also significantly higher in PTSD (22.7 +/- 2.4 micrograms/day) than in MDD (13.6 +/- 1.7 micrograms/day), PS (14.7 +/- 2.4 micrograms/day), and US (18.9 +/- 1.8 micrograms/day), but not higher than in BP (21.5 +/- 2.7 micrograms/day). The relationship of epinephrine levels among diagnostic groups was sustained throughout hospitalization. It appears likely that the main underlying mechanisms for elevations of both hormones are psychological, but further work will be required to establish the exact nature of these mechanisms.