Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Causes of PTSD

2-minute read

When someone develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fear, anxiety and memories of trauma last for a long period of time and interfere with how they cope with everyday life.

PTSD is caused by witnessing such a traumatic event — an event that was potentially life-threatening, or involved serious injury or sexual violence. Although a relationship break-up or losing a job can feel devastating, these are not the kinds of events that usually cause PTSD.

The kinds of experiences that can potentially cause PTSD are:

  • serious accidents
  • natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and earthquakes
  • living in a war zone, as a victim of war or a soldier
  • sexual assault or threatened sexual assault
  • serious physical assault
  • seeing people hurt or killed

Anyone can develop PTSD, but some people are at greater risk. The reasons why some people develop PTSD while others do not are not completely understood. There is probably a complex mixture of reasons.

Risk factors for developing PTSD include:

  • repeated trauma, such as living in a war zone for a long time
  • having had a mental illness in the past, like anxiety or depression
  • a history of trauma or abuse in early childhood
  • experiencing very severe trauma
  • not having enough support afterwards
  • extra life stresses after the trauma, such as the loss of loved ones, a home or a job
  • the type of traumatic event, with rape or sexual assault being more likely to lead to PTSD than other events

PTSD is not the only mental health disorder caused by experiencing traumatic events, and depression and anxiety disorders may be just as common. Depression, generalised anxiety, PTSD and agoraphobia are the most common disorders that can be caused by traumatic events.

If someone appears to be experiencing these symptoms of PTSD for longer than one month after a traumatic event, it's important to talk to a doctor or other health professional.

Use our Service finder to search for a general medical practice in your region.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2018


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

How might PTSD affect sleep? There are many sleep problems that may be associated with PTSD. For more information on the disorders metioned below see the relevant pages on our website.The extreme anxiety of PTSD (caused by trauma or catastrophe) can seriously disrupt sleep. In some cases this starts a few m

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Trauma and PTSD | Open Arms

Being emotionally affected by a traumatic event usually settles within a week or two. If it keeps going and causes distress, you might have a problem with posttraumatic stress.

Read more on Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling website

Postpartum Trauma Disorders (e.g. PTSD) - Birth Trauma

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of a group of trauma and stressor-related disorders. People often associate these with war veterans, police

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

My experience of EMDR Therapy for PTSD - Birth Trauma

A brave woman shares her experience of using EMDR with treating PTSD and birth trauma.

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

How to Deal with Trauma | PTSD Explained | THIS WAY UP

Find out how to deal with trauma and understand the signs, symptoms and treatment options for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Read more on This Way Up website

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Beyond Blue

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) | Department of Veterans' Affairs

Information on the signs and symptoms of PTSD and details on how to get help and treatment.

Read more on Department of Veterans' Affairs website

MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD edges closer - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are currently underway in the USA, Canada, and Israel. These trials, spearheaded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), are the last step in determining if this treatment is safe and effective enough to merit the legal prescription of MDMA to enhance psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

MindSpot PTSD Course to manage psychological and emotional symptoms resulting from trauma - MindSpot Clinic

The MindSpot PTSD Course can help people manage psychological and emotional symptoms resulting from trauma

Read more on MindSpot Clinic website

Childhood phobias, panic attacks & PTSD | Raising Children Network

Children often have phobias about the dark, storms, dogs, spiders and clowns. Panic attacks are quite rare. Post-traumatic stress is a reaction to trauma.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo