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

MDMA and PTSD - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Originally manufactured in the early 1900s to help control bleeding, MDMA became more commonly used in the 1970s and early 1980s by some psychiatrists to assist in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

PTSD Coach Australia app | At Ease

The PTSD Coach Australia app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma.

Read more on Department of Veterans' Affairs website

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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

Effective treatment of PTSD following a traumatic birth - COPE

Centre of Perinatal Excellence

Read more on COPE - Centre of Perinatal Excellence 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

Post-traumatic stress disorder | Your Health in Mind

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness. It can come after an event where a person is exposed to actua...

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

A day in the life post traumatic stress disorder | Trauma | ReachOut Australia

This audio story follows rural high school student, Sam, as he struggles with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Post-traumatic stress disorder help & support - Black Dog Institute

There are a range of specialised help and support options for people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help treat and manage.

Read more on Black Dog Institute 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