Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a treatable anxiety disorder that affects approximately three million Australians at some point in their lives. It is a condition where fear, anxiety or the memories of a traumatic event are unable to be ignored. These emotions may feel like they will last forever and tend to interfere with how one copes with their day-to-day life. Events that could lead to PTSD could be traumatic experiences such as a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war, or torture. PTSD can also be developed as the result of an ongoing series of traumatic events such as emotional abuse or living in a war zone. As a result of their traumatic experience the individual often experiences feelings of intense fear, horror or even helplessness.
Within the first couple of weeks of experiencing a traumatic event, it is common for everyone to experience some of the symptoms for PTSD. For many individuals, with the support of family and friends, may instinctively work through these symptoms without experiencing any long term impact on their life. Others for various reasons may not recover so quickly. These ongoing, disruptive to everyday life symptoms maybe PTSD.
Everyone’s experience with PTSD is different. Symptoms can vary from being subtle changes in day-to-day behaviours or numbness and withdrawal, to upsetting flashbacks or even strong physical responses such as a rapidly beating heart. Symptoms of PTSD may appear in the month after a traumatic event has taken place but may also stay dormant in an individual for years. Some symptoms of PTSD are:
It is not unusual for individuals with PTSD to suffer from other mental health disorders as well. These mental health disorders may happen as a direct response to the traumatic event or may develop due to the ongoing challenge of coping with PTSD. The longer a person suffers with PTSD the greater their chance of developing mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression and drug or alcohol substance use disorder.
PTSD develops as a result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic incident. This traumatic incident may be a life threatening experience, a serious injury or an act of sexual, physical, or emotional violence. This incident can be a one off event or something experienced repeatedly over a long period of time. Some examples of experiences that may result in the development of PTSD are:
Although anyone can develop PTSD, some people have a higher risk in comparison to others. Like with many other mental health conditions there is no one factor that is certain to make a person more likely to develop PTSD when another person in the same situation may not however there are certain risk factors that may make it more likely.
PTSD is not the only type of disorder that is caused due to traumatic events taking place. Depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia (a fear being in public) are also common types of mental health disorders that can be caused by traumatic events.
The process of diagnosing PTSD typically involves a GP along with another mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. The first step is to conduct an initial mental health assessment which asks questions about any current symptoms you are experiencing, and any history of mental health disorders for you or in your family. Depending on the circumstance your GP may conduct a physical examination to check for any other reasons you may be experiencing the symptoms you report. A mental health professional may ask more questions about the duration, frequency and intensity of symptoms as well as about potential traumatic events.
For a formal diagnosis of PTSD, a person typically needs to have experienced the traumatic event more than six months ago and have symptoms of PTSD severe enough to disrupt their ability to properly function at work, home or socially. However even if you don’t meet the exact criteria for PTSD diagnosis you may still be recommended to begin treatment for PTSD if the PTSD symptoms are sufficiently severe and disruptive for a period longer than two weeks. You don’t need to wait for six months after a traumatic event to seek help. Seek help as soon as you feel you need it.
Treatment for PTSD typically involves psychotherapy and may also involve medication or medication and psychotherapy used together. Everyone's PTSD is different and different types of psychotherapy or medication may work better for you than others. Ultimately psychotherapy is recognised as the best long term solution for recovering from PTSD whilst medication works best to manage symptoms in the short term.
Some common types of psychotherapy used in the treatment of PTSD include: