What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a stress disorder which can develop as a result of directly experiencing, witnessing or being confronted with a traumatic life event. The trauma may be a “single-incident” or “prolonged” event.

“Single-incident traumatic events” may include: experiencing or witnessing serious car accidents, falls, burns or other types of accidents; violent crimes (including assault); dog attacks; natural and man-made disasters (such as bushfires, house-fires, floods, chemical explosions, cyclones); undergoing emergency medical treatments; being diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition (e.g., cancer); or being confronted with a close family member suffering from a life-threatening situation.

Prolonged traumatic events” include: experiencing or witnessing repeated physical and/or sexual assault or abuse, or living or working in war affected regions.

Traumatic events which can trigger PTSD involve a potential threat to one’s life, or a threat of injury to self or other people.

PTSD symptoms

PTSD reactions may include some of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent re-experiencing of the event e.g., unwanted thoughts and images of the trauma
  • Trying to avoid reminders of the event e.g., avoidance of thoughts, emotions or being confronted with reminders of the experience
  • Ongoing negative thoughts and feelings related to the trauma e.g., persistent negative mood, and exaggerated self-blame or blame of others for the trauma
  • Increased physiological arousal since the trauma e.g., trouble sleeping, feeling irritable or easily angered, feeling very ‘jumpy’ at sudden noises, and trouble concentrating

Other emotional responses following trauma

People recovering from a trauma may also experience grief reactions especially if they have experienced serious injury or witnessed other people dying. In addition, individuals recovering from trauma may meet criteria for other anxiety and mood disorders including major depression. Trauma survivors may also suffer from alcohol and substance use disorders.