Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Most people are likely to experience a potentially traumatic event in their lifetime, and most individuals recover well, given time and adequate social support. For some individuals however, the experience of a traumatic event or chronic exposure to trauma can trigger symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD refers to a set of symptoms that can emerge following the experience of a traumatic event that involves exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Exposure to such events can be through:
- directly experiencing the traumatic event
- witnessing, in person, the event happening to someone else
- learning that the event has happened to a close family member or close friend
- repeated or extreme exposure to the aftermath of trauma (e.g. first responders to emergency situations).
Without treatment, PTSD can become a chronic condition, and places the individual at greater risk of developing other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, or problems with alcohol or drug use. With sound psychological intervention however, the chances of recovery are good.
Symptoms are characterised by:
- A sense of reliving the traumatic event experiencing unwanted and distressing thoughts or images, flashbacks, nightmares, or feeling as though the event is recurring.
- Avoidance and numbing avoidance of people, places, thoughts and activities associated with the traumatic event feeling emotionally flat, losing interest in enjoyable activities, or feeling disconnected from friends and family.
- Negative thoughts and mood persistent negative thoughts about self, others, and the world distorted views about the causes and consequences of the event
- Feeling wound-up feeling irritable, angry, over-alert, or edgy
- Experiencing difficulties concentrating experiencing difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep.
A diagnosis of PTSD is made when these symptoms are present for more than one month and cause significant distress, or interfere with important areas of functioning, such as work, study, or family life.
Whilst traumatic events are the trigger for PTSD, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event goes on to develop PTSD. Other factors include the type and severity of the trauma – sexual assault and abuse, military combat, and terrorist acts are linked to a higher rate of PTSD than motor vehicle accidents and natural disasters, lack of social support and subsequent life stress.
Treatment for PTSD
PTSD can be treated using a number of methods however to determine which treatment is best suited, Kathryn will ask questions about the individual’s history, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and behaviours to gain an understanding of the factors that might be contributing to the person’s difficulties and work out a treatment best suited to the client.
Further Reading & Support
Australian Psychological Society
Australia’s largest professional association for psychologists
Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health
Information about the impact of trauma and treatment for PTSD
Information on anxiety, depression, and related disorders
Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12-25
A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service
Telephone: 13 11 14
Psychosocial Support in Disasters
Resources on coping for people who have been directly affected by disaster or their loved ones