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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

2-minute read

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a treatable anxiety disorder affecting around one million Australians each year.

It happens when fear, anxiety and memories of a traumatic event don't go away. The feelings last for a long time and interfere with how people cope with everyday life.

If a person with PTSD has feelings of self-harm or suicide, this is a medical emergency. Dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance, or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

PTSD can be caused by traumatic experiences that involve death, serious injury or sexual violence (actual or threatened). This might include physical or sexual assault, living in a war zone, torture, and natural disasters.

But everyone responds to trauma differently. Even if an event makes someone very distressed, most will eventually recover on their own. Only a minority of people develop PTSD after a traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD can vary greatly, from subtle changes in day-to-day life, withdrawal and numbness, to distressing flashbacks or physical anxiety. The main symptoms of PTSD are:

  • re-experiencing the trauma (memories, nightmares or flashbacks)
  • avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • negative thoughts and mood
  • being very alert and having a physical response to sudden changes that could be a sign of danger

PTSD can be a long lasting and disabling condition. It can have a devastating impact on individuals, relationships and families. It can also lead to other conditions such as depression or substance abuse. However, with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible.

Visit Head to Health for trusted phone and online mental health resources, including information about trauma and stressor-related disorders.

Last reviewed: November 2018

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