What is PTSD?
Contrary to the understanding of many people, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is NOT exclusive to the military/armed forces.
PTSD is a particular set of reactions that can develop in anyone who has been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them. This could be a car or other serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or disasters such as bushfires or floods. As a result, the person experiences feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Many of the thoughts and reactions typical of PTSD are the same as those given to explain what it is like to suffer Post Traumatic Grief. It is possible for a suddenly bereaved person to be defined as suffering from traumatic grief and PTSD.People diagnosed as suffering from PTSD are defined as firstly having suffered a traumatic event, which can include a sudden death of a loved one. The bereaved person has recurring thoughts about the horror of that event. This often manifests through vivid flashbacks, when it feels as though the event or events surrounding it are happening again, traumatic nightmares, and intense distress when reminded of the event.
The signs and symptoms of PTSD
People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. A person with PTSD experiences four main types of difficulties.
- Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
- Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
- Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
- Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.
Find out about other symptoms associated with PTSD.
It’s not unusual for people with PTSD to experience other mental health problems at the same time. These may have developed directly in response to the traumatic event or have followed the PTSD. These additional problems, most commonly depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug use, are more likely to occur if PTSD has persisted for a long time.
How common is PTSD and who experiences it?
Anyone can develop PTSD following a traumatic event, but people are at greater risk if the event involved deliberate harm such as physical or sexual assault or they have had repeated traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse or living in a war zone. Apart from the event itself, risk factors for developing PTSD include a past history of trauma or previous mental health problems, as well as ongoing stressful life events after the trauma and an absence of social supports.
Around 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime. Serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia.
If you feel very distressed at any time after a traumatic event, talking to your doctor or other health professional is a good first step. If you experience symptoms of PTSD that persist beyond two weeks, a doctor or a mental health professional may recommend starting treatment for PTSD.
Find out more
The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and sought from BeyondBlue who are experts in the field of Mental Health Support Services.