Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Explained


Published: 19 September 2022

Did you know that around 12% of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime? (SANE 2022).

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the term given to a specific set of reactions and health complications that follow the experience of an event that threatened a person’s life or safety, or the safety of those around them (Better Health Channel 2022).

The term PTSD is often used to describe post-war mental health complications, but you don’t need to have experienced combat to have PTSD. PTSD can relate to a range of traumatic events, which in many cases have severe effects on the person.

Note that PTSD is distinct from post-traumatic stress (PTS). PTS is a normal and adaptive response to trauma - not a mental illness. The side effects of PTS should resolve over the space of a month (Bender 2018).

Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Situations that may trigger PTSD include:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • A car accident or other road accident
  • A traumatic birth experience
  • War and torture
  • Experiencing an act of terror
  • Natural disasters
  • A friend or family member experiencing a traumatic event.

(Phoenix Australia 2022; Better Health Channel 2022; Torres 2020; Your Health In Mind 2021)

Airbag deployed in car example of traumatic event that may cause PTSD
Knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder is essential to all healthcare workers.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Facts

  • Between 2 and 20% of people who experience trauma will develop PTSD
  • PTSD is more common in women than in men
  • War veterans and emergency service workers generally have high rates of PTSD.

(SANE 2022; Your Health in Mind 2021)

Risk Factors that Increase the Chance of Developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Being injured
  • Childhood trauma
  • Having little or no support after the traumatic event
  • Genetic factors and/or having a history of mental illness
  • History of substance abuse
  • Having additional stresses after the event (e.g. loss of a loved one, injury)
  • Seeing another person get injured or killed.

(NIMH 2019)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Comorbid Conditions

It’s well documented that people with post-traumatic stress disorder often present with additional psychological disorders. In fact, about 80% of people with PTSD develop additional conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse (Better Health Channel 2022).

A study into the prevalence of PTSD in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in custody in Australia found that PTSD often corresponded with anxiety (31.2%), depression (32.8%), psychosis (24.6%) and suicidal ideation (50.1%) (Heffernan et al. 2015).

person seeing a therapist for help with post-traumatic stress disorder
People with PTSD often present with additional psychological disorders.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Repeated thoughts related to the event that are intrusive, intense, disturbing, or all of these
  • Vivid flashbacks of the event
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling physically and psychologically distressed
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about one’s self including guilt, depression, anxiety, fear or shame
  • Avoidant behaviours, such as avoiding places, people or objects related to the event
  • Sleeping and concentration difficulties
  • Being easily angered, irritated, wound-up or alert
  • Feeling emotionally numb, or experiencing dissociation or general feelings of detachment
  • Being constantly on guard for danger
  • Experiencing a sense of hopelessness.

(Torres 2020; Beyond Blue 2013; Better Health Channel 2022; Mayo Clinic 2018; Orentas & Gökbayrak 2021)

PTSD can impact all facets of life including work, relationships, health and overall quality of life (Your Health in Mind 2021).

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Children

Children and teenagers can have extreme responses to trauma, but the symptoms they display are often different to those expressed by adults (NIMH 2019).

Be alert to symptoms such as:

  • Bedwetting
  • Reluctance or sudden inability to talk
  • Acting out the event during play
  • Being particularly clingy.

(NIMH 2019)

Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

group therapy session of people seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD can impact all facets of life including work, relationships, health and overall quality of life.

Treatment may include:

  • Psychological therapies (‘talk therapies’)
  • Trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Exposure therapy
  • Medication
  • A combination of these.

(SANE 2022; NIMH 2019)

For children, trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy is the recommended treatment (Better Health Channel 2022).

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Relapse

Revisiting places or reuniting with certain people can reignite PTSD in some people. It is recommended that patients make a recovery plan with their therapist (Your Health in Mind 2021).

Support from loved ones or groups may also be helpful (Mayo Clinic 2018).


Test Your Knowledge

Question 1 of 3

What percentage of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime?


educator profile image
Ausmed View profile
Ausmed’s editorial team is committed to providing high-quality, well-researched and reputable education to our users, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All education produced by Ausmed is developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and undergoes a rigorous review process to ensure the relevancy of all healthcare information and updates to changes in practice. If you have identified an issue with the education offered by Ausmed or wish to submit feedback to Ausmed's editorial team, please email with your concerns.