Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe reaction to a traumatic event. A traumatic event might include a natural disaster or be caused by a person, such as a work place accident, an armed hold-up, a physical, emotional or sexual assault, car crash, combat or torture. Experiencing or being witness to a traumatic event can cause significant emotional and physical distress. 


It’s normal to experience stress after a traumatic event, but these symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks. 


If the symptoms of trauma persist more than a month, a person may have developed PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD are severe and last for a long time – often years – and can disrupt a person’s ability to function at work and study, in relationships and in their general quality of life, as well as affecting their health.


What are the symptoms of PTSD?


Three types of symptoms can affect people with PTSD. The symptoms can vary in type and intensity. In addition, it is common for a person with PTSD to be experiencing other mental health conditions, including other anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse.

Symptom Type




Intrusive memories and images from the traumatic event, experienced through: 


Daytime memories 


Flashback experiences




Avoidance of reminders of the trauma, such as: 







Emotional numbing including: 


Restricted emotions

Feeling detached from others, even close family/friends

Loss of interest in usual activities

Difficulty seeing a long term future


Heightened arousal


Increased arousal and wakefulness resulting in: 


Difficulty sleeping

Irritability or outbursts of anger

Difficulty concentrating

Hypervigilance (looking out for signs of danger) 

Exaggerated startle response




Who gets PTSD?


Around 6.4% of Australian adults experience PTSD, and it’s almost twice as prevalent in women (8.3%) as in men (4.6%). Genetic factors and life experience, including parenting styles, role modelling and previous exposure to trauma, can contribute to the likelihood of developing PTSD.


The nature of the trauma also influences the likelihood of a person developing PTSD. Some traumatic events are both severe and extreme, and so are more likely to result in personal feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror with both physical and emotional symptoms.  


Other factors influencing the development of PTSD include how close the person was to the event and whether or not the trauma was inflicted by another person.


Treatment for PTSD


There are effective treatments available for PTSD. For most, psychological treatments are effective. Education and stress inoculation training can be useful. Medications are also available but should only be taken under guidance from a medical practitioner.


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an effective structured psychological treatment for PTSD.


CBT for PTSD helps you to learn how to change any unhelpful thoughts and beliefs maintaining PTSD. It can also teach you useful distraction and relaxation techniques, and ways to reduce stress or physical symptoms.


One option to manage and overcome PTSD is exposure therapy, where a person is gradually exposed to cues that trigger distress and are reminders of the trauma. This controlled exposure may be imagined, based in virtual reality or presented in real-life.


Some people develop PTSD following exposure to long-lasting and/or repeated traumatic events (such as sexual assault). For these people, therapy emphasising emotional regulation can be more effective. This approach, with its more gradual approach to exposure therapy, helps people to develop a deeper therapeutic alliance.


Where can I receive treatment for PTSD?


There are a number of ways you can access psychological treatment for PTSD and you can choose a way that works best for you. This can be in-person with a mental health professional, or online with the support of a program.


By registering, you can access Mental Health Online’s free and comprehensive PTSD assessment and treatment. You may like to do this by yourself in our self-guided option, but you can also opt for our free therapist-assisted program via email, chat, or video.


Explore other treatment options


For further information about treatment options and assistance:


Visit your GP


Explore other online therapies at Head to Health


Find a Psychologist through the Australian Psychological Society’s referral service


Contact your local community health centre

Last Updated : 22-Dec-2021