Did you know that around 12% of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime? (Beyond Blue 2019; Sane Australia 2018).
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 (Beyond Blue 2019; Better Health Channel 2017).
The term PTSD is often used to describe post-war mental health complications, but you don’t have 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 PTS (post-traumatic stress). PTS is a normal and adaptive response to trauma, it is not a mental illness. The side effects of PTS should resolve over the space of a month (Bender 2018).
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;
A friend or family member experiences a traumatic event.
(Beyond Blue 2019; Phoenix Australia n.d.a; Better Health Channel 2017; American Psychiatric Association 2017; Your Health In Mind 2016)
PTSD can affect anyone; 25% of people who experience trauma will develop PTSD (Sane Australia 2018).
PTSD is more common in women than men (Sane Australia 2018; Your Health in Mind 2016).
While serious car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in Australia, people who have experienced repeated, deliberate harm–such as sexual or physical abuse–are more likely to develop PTSD (Sane Australia 2018; Beyond Blue 2019).
War veterans and emergency service workers generally have high rates of PTSD (Your Health in Mind 2016).
PTSD and Comorbid Conditions
It is well documented that people with post-traumatic stress disorder often present with additional psychological disorders (American Psychiatric Association 2017; Mayo Clinic 2018; Phoenix Australia n.d.b). A recent study into the prevalence of PTSD in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People 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).
Repeated thoughts related to the event that are intrusive, intense, disturbing, or all of these.
Vivid flashbacks of the event.
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.
(National Institute of Mental Health 2019; Sane Australia 2018).
The complications of PTSD can not be overstated. As well as the severe symptoms of PTSD in adults and children, PTSD can have ongoing negative effects on a person’s day-to-day life (Mayo Clinic 2018; Your Health in Mind 2016).
PTSD can impact all facets of life including work, relationships, health and over-all quality of life (Mayo Clinic 2018; Your Health in Mind 2016).
Risk Factors that Increase the Chance of Developing PTSD
Having little or no support after the event;
Genetic factors and/or having a history of mental illness;
Having additional stresses after the event; and
Seeing another person get injured, or killed.
(National Institute of Mental Health 2019; Tull 2019)
Most people will recover well within two weeks to three months of a traumatic event, those who do not should seek treatment (Your Health in Mind 2016; Beyond Blue 2019; Better Health Channel 2017). Many effective treatments are available.
(Better Health Channel 2017; American Psychiatric Association 2017; National Institute of Mental Health 2019; Phoenix Australia n.d.c.)
For children, trauma-focussed cognitive behaviour therapy is the recommended treatment (Better Health Channel 2017).
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 2016). Remind patients that in some cases, PTSD has been known to intensify over time (Mayo Clinic 2018).
Heffernan, E, Andersen, K, Davidson, F and Kinner, SA 2015, 'PTSD Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Custody in Australia: Prevalence and Correlates', Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28, pp. 523-530. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26584243/