Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What it is, who can be affected and how to get help

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What it is, who can be affected and how to get help

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is much more common than many people may think. It affects approximately 25% of people who are exposed to traumatic events, and can prolong trauma for many years after the initial trauma. But there is hope for recovery with the right help.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is the term used to describe a set of reactions that follow a traumatic event, like a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or a natural disaster such as a bushfire or a flood.

These reactions vary from person to person but can include:

  • Mentally ‘replaying’ the event
  • Hypervigilance, or being extremely aware and worried about potential threats
  • Anxiety, irritability and insomnia
  • Not wanting to be reminded of the event and avoiding places, people or things associated with the event
  • A feeling of numbness or depression

Who can suffer from PTSD?

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event can be at risk, but people who have a past history of mental illness or trauma, as well as stressful life conditions and a lack of support, are more likely to develop PTSD.

Everyone has a different capacity for trauma, which is informed by a combination of risk factors including neurobiology, past experiences and genetics. Something one person may not find stressful could be enough for someone else to develop PTSD.

PTSD in Australia

According to SANE, about 12% of people living in Australia will experience PTSD in their lifetime, and anyone can develop PTSD at any age. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and people who have experienced repeated, deliberate harm such as sexual or physical abuse are more likely to develop PTSD than someone who has experienced ‘unintentional trauma’ such as a car accident.

People in the defence force face a much higher risk of developing PTSD than civilians. The Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation estimates that approximately 8.3% of Australian Defence Force members will have experienced PTSD in the last 12 months, compared with 5.2% of the wider Australian community.

Comorbidity is common

In medical terms, comorbidity refers to the combined occurrence of one or more illnesses in the same patient. Comorbidity in PTSD is incredibly common: according to Phoenix Australia, 86% of men and 77% of women with PTSD are likely to have another disorder such as depression, substance misuse or anxiety.

For this reason, it is important that health professionals consider other disorders, illnesses or issues as well as the PTSD when treating an affected person.

Getting help

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the best ways to assess and treat PTSD, offering support in dealing with both the initial event and PTSD symptoms. CBT works to undo habits, patterns and ways of thinking that are no longer helpful and teaches techniques that help to reduce the intense responses PTSD sufferers can experience.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that relates to treating PTSD and can work as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, CBT. Medication is usually not seen as a first line treatment, however antidepressants may be considered.

It is always best to talk to your GP first and discuss a treatment plan that is right for you.