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What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Around 3 million Australians will be affected by PTSD at some point in their lives.
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a treatable mental health condition that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event. Statistics show that in Australia, around one to two per cent of adults experience PTSD each year, while approximately 12 per cent (about 3 million Australians) will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

Thankfully, PTSD is very treatable and it is possible to live a fulfilling life after experiencing this condition. We're going to take a look at PTSD, what causes it, the signs and symptoms, and what treatments are available.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is PTSD and what causes it?

PTSD is a mental health issue that manifests as a set of reactions that can develop in an individual after they've been through a traumatic event that threatened their life or safety, or that of other people around them.

A traumatic event is one that is something shocking or overwhelming that may make someone feel intense fear, helplessness or horror. This includes events such as serious accidents, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or disasters like bushfires or floods.

People affected by PTSD may experience a range of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts and memories of the trauma, and it can interfere with day-to-day life, work, and relationships.

Signs and symptoms

Everybody responds differently to traumatic events. Symptoms may appear shortly after the event or can stay dormant for a long period of time and arise months or years after the stressful event.

For PTSD to be diagnosed, symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with an individual's day-to-day life and ability to function at home, work, and/or socially. Diagnosis occurs when a GP, psychiatrist or registered mental health clinician assesses the individual's symptoms. The individual will usually then be offered further treatment for these symptoms.

Generally speaking, a person with PTSD experiences four main types of signs and symptoms:

Re-experiencing the trauma

This can include:

  • Distressing and ‘intrusive’ thoughts and memories

  • Nightmares

  • Flashbacks of the trauma

  • Intense physical or emotional reactions, such as sweating, panic, or heart palpitations, to things that remind the individual of the traumatic event

Avoiding reminders of the event

Individuals will deliberately avoid thoughts, feelings, activities, places and people associated with the traumatic event. Avoiding thoughts and feelings in particular is very difficult and cause a lot of stress and frustration for the individual.

Negative changes in thoughts and mood

The individual may feel cut off from day-to-day activities, lose interest in hobbies they previously enjoyed, have difficulty remembering parts of the traumatic event, experience negative feelings like guilt, fear or shame, or feel detached from reality.

Increased anxiety and/or feeling overly wound up

The individual may feel excessively 'on edge', anxious, irritable or 'jumpy'. This can in turn lead to angry outbursts and difficulties in sleeping and/or concentrating.

How to treat it

Many people experience symptoms of PTSD a few weeks after a traumatic event and some recover on their own or with the help of their support network. As such, treatment doesn't usually start until a few weeks after the traumatic event. Generally speaking, there are three broad forms of treatment for PTSD:

  • Psychological treatments (talking therapy) - This involves seeking help from mental health professionals. The first step is to contact a GP to discuss the best option, and they may refer you to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who can offer strategies and skills to help process the trauma.

  • Medical treatments - This involves the prescription of medication and is often used in combination with psychological therapies.

  • Self-help - This is not a treatment, per se, however, some people choose to manage symptoms on their own. Learning relaxation strategies and exercising regularly, for example, can help to ease symptoms. For severe cases of PTSD, self-help is most effectively used in combination with psychological treatment and/or medication.

PTSD affects everyone differently and this will influence which treatments will be best suited for you. If you're not sure what to do, speak to a GP or mental health professional about the best treatment for you. Sonder's 24/7 support team is also available to talk and provide access to medical help if you need it.

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If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: cottonbro at Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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