PTSD: What it is and how to spot it

One of the most ‘clicked’ on categories on my blog is what is PTSD ? so I think it is worth revisiting this topic but from a different angle. We need to bring awareness to post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health problem that can afflict people following a traumatic event. Most people have a vague notion what PTSD is but not what it ACTUALLY is and not the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD.

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event — an assault, accident or warfare, just to name a few — can experience symptoms of PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a group of stress reactions that can develop after we witness a traumatic event, such as death, serious injury or sexual violence to ourselves or to others. PTSD can happen after we’ve been through one traumatic event, or after repeated exposure to trauma. Sometimes, PTSD can develop after hearing details about devastating and traumatic events many times, like the experience of some emergency workers. However, many traumatic events (e.g., car accidents, natural disasters, etc.) are of time-limited duration. However, in some cases, people experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time. The current PTSD diagnosis often does not fully capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged, repeated trauma. People who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.

Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University suggests that a new diagnosis, Complex PTSD, is needed to describe the symptoms of long-term trauma

Is PTSD and Complex PTSD really a problem ?

The National Centre for PTSD estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. That means about 8 million adults will have PTSD during a given year, the centre predicts.

More women than men — about 10 percent compared to 4 percent — develop PTSD, according to the National Centre for PTSD.

“PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness,” the website says. “A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, if you were directly exposed to the trauma or injured, you are more likely to develop PTSD.”

In Australia as many as 800,000 Australians suffer from PTSD at any given time, making it the second most common mental health disorder, new figures reveal.

Meanwhile, medical experts are being urged to pay particular attention to the signs of PTSD in children and teenagers, in whom the condition often goes undiagnosed.

The Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health estimates that up to 10 percent of people will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.

In Canada according to the National Centre for PTSD about seven or eight out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to experience PTSD. It affects twice as many women as men. Almost 10 percent of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives, compared to four percent of men. A factor in this discrepancy could be linked to sexual assault. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault than men and sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than other events.

In Ireland a recent study conducted into Psychiatric patients revealed It is generally acknowledged that relative to community samples, trauma PSTD survivors are over-represented in both inpatient and outpatient mental health populations.Indeed, existing research evidence suggests that over 80 percent of individuals attending psychiatric services will have experienced at least one traumatic life event that meets diagnostic criteria for PTSD. So concluding it is propounding obvious that PTSD across a broad range of countries has found unequivocal evidence of the health crisis caused by PTSD due. It clearly needs more research and treatment funds to be allocated to it by the Government.

What are some symptoms of PTSD?

The National Center for PTSD lists four specific symptoms of PTSD but contends that symptoms may not be the exact same for everyone.

Will an antibiotic treat PTSD?

No antibiotics will not treat PTSD. Only specific medications and therapy will treat this debilitating condition.

Symptoms are:

People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. A person with PTSD experiences four main types of difficulties.

Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.

  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.
  • It’s not unusual for people with PTSD to experience other mental health problems at the same time. These may have developed directly in response to the traumatic event or have followed the PTSD. These additional problems, most commonly depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug use, are more likely to occur if PTSD has persisted for a long time.

“PTSD, similar to other psychiatric and medical conditions, is not the fault of the person who has the condition,” Borenstein said. “Feeling embarrassed, feeling like you’re at fault in some fashion, can be why people don’t go and seek help.”

“PTSD is one of the newer diagnoses, and so from that perspective, it’s taken some time for the recognition of PTSD as a condition to be kind of filter through to the professional and broader Australian community,” Professor Forbes from Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health said. Noticing changes in families members behaviours is a vital clue to helping professional diagnose PTSD. Sleeping more/less, mood swings, drinking more, eat more/less etc. That’s why is it is useful to bring a family member to your first professional consultation when seeking help. They notice nuance changes in your behaviour you may not.

“Parents are particularly good at picking up changes in obvious behaviours, but some of the internal mood systems like feeling down, or having memories, or having intrusions of what happened may be less obvious to parents.

“And kids aren’t necessarily going to tell their parents about it, which is why it’s critical to be interviewing parents and children in relation to traumatic stress.

“The recognition of PTSD is certainly increasing, although perhaps the magnitude of how widespread it is maybe not.”

“Many people are affected by it, in particular, our returning service members. With appropriate treatments, people can get better,” Borenstein said. “Often people end up suffering in silence rather than seeking help. And with help, people really do get better.”

Borenstein said he classifies it as more of “prejudice” than a “stigma,” however.

“I think stigma in many ways is too soft of a word,” he said. “There is a prejudice in our society toward people who are experiencing a mental illness.”


But as more information about mental illnesses is being discovered and more people are publicly sharing their stories of dealing with mental health issues, “that prejudice and stigma is improving.”

“But I think we still have a long way to go with that,” he said.

So what kind of treatment options are available?

The National Center for PTSD lists two main types of treatment: psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy is also considered to be counselling or talk therapy. Also used is EMDR. EMDR therapy is a cost-effective, non-invasive, evidence-based method of psychotherapy that facilitates adaptive information processing. EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment which comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity, and has thereby generated traumatic symptoms and/or harmful coping strategies. Through EMDR therapy, patients are able to reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive. One treatment that works for one person might not necessarily work for another.


Borenstein encouraged those who may think they have PTSD or loved ones who think a family member or friend has the disorder to talk to a trusted professional — such as a general practitioner, pastor or a friend or family member who would be able to give guidance.

He also suggested people search online for local resources available in one’s community.

“There are a variety of ways that people can get help that can make a big difference,” Borenstein said. “There are effective treatments available.”

Is there still a stigma with PTSD when it comes to the military?

Ritchie said that the stigma associated with PTSD and seeking mental health has changed over the years — but not necessarily in a linear way.


The change has coincided with Americans’ view on soldiers, she said. When Vietnam veterans returned to the U.S., oftentimes service members were treated with disrespect or disregard.

“Younger veterans are treated in a way that they can have a feeling in value of self as a soldier,” Ritchie said.

But Ritchie said that it can be a challenge for younger veterans, in particular, to get help as “they don’t like talking very much about traumatic events.” For those people, Ritchie recommends alternative forms of therapy, such as exercise or art therapy. It is also mirrored in the wider community. There is still a stigma around mental health and PTSD which makes it harder for sufferers to come forward to GPs, their families and other professionals. Those suffering PTSD due to childhood abuse area are already experiencing great shame and guilt so it is doubly difficult. 


Advocacy is the actions taken to influence or produce systemic change to ensure fair treatment and social justice for people with mental illness and their carers. Through advocacy the stigma around mental health and PTSD will be removed. It is up to each and everyone of us to advocate for the removal of stigma around Complex PTSD and PTSD plus all mental health issues. 


  1. I have a question regarding PTSD – is it possible for PTSD to occur if a person is exposed to a series of events that are stressful but not necessarily traumatic as compared to assault or a severe accident?

    • Hi Nicole yes it is possible to develop PTSD if exposed to a series of events that cause extreme stress. Things do not necessairly have to be traumatic to cause PTSD – repeated stress will do it particularly if from a young age. Hope you find this helpful. All the best Erin

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