Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that develops in response to an extremely traumatic and often life-threatening event or situation. Traumatic events commonly associated with PTSD include things like experiencing or witnessing physical violence, serious injury, sexual assault or rape, terrorism, war/combat or a natural disaster.
Repeated exposure to trauma can also lead to prominent PTSD symptoms, as is the case for people in emergency services, domestic violence scenarios or the military. Trauma that occurs at an early age can be particularly damaging, particularly if it is associated with a parent or caregiver. Our psychiatrists and psychologists are experienced in treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders and are here to provide caring, professional support to those in need.
We aren’t really sure why some people develop PTSD and others don’t follow a traumatic event or experience. Research shows about 1 in 3 people who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD. Many factors are thought to interact with each other to cause a traumatic stress reaction. If you have any of the following, you may be at a higher risk for PTSD:
People are affected by trauma in different ways and every person’s experience of PTSD is unique to them. With that said, there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for. By its very nature, PTSD involves re-experiencing the feelings of extreme fear and panic that were felt at the time of the traumatic event/s.
PTSD can often occur alongside other mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with their PTSD symptoms and this can lead to many consequences, including problems with addiction.
Complex PTSD, otherwise known as PTSD, occurs in response to severe, prolonged or repeated traumatic events (e.g. domestic violence, childhood abuse or being a prisoner of war). PTSD, on the other hand, generally relates to a single, isolated traumatic event (e.g. a robbery, single sexual assault, or bushfire)
People with PTSD often experience a more pronounced negative impact on their personality, identity, mood, memory and concentration and ability to regulate their own emotions. They often experience overwhelming and highly changeable emotions, which they can react to in unhelpful ways (e.g. explosive outbursts or complete detachment from emotions). People with PTSD are also more likely to have difficulties in relationships, view themselves negatively and engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviours.
Comorbidity is the rule, not the exception for PTSD. Researches show that around 80% of people with PTSD have another mental health diagnosis. Co-occurring mental health diagnoses, whether they predate or follow the PTSD, have the potential to exacerbate the trauma-related symptoms and prolong recovery.
Anxiety and depression are the most common diagnoses that occur alongside PTSD. For example, research has shown around 50% of people with PTSD also meet diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder.
Alcohol and substance use disorders are also common, with people turning to these things in an attempt to self-medicate. Rates of intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour are also higher in people with PTSD.
A flashback is a re-experiencing event that feels like the past trauma is happening at that moment. Flashback experiences can include the following:
You may notice that certain people or situations trigger a flashback. Flashbacks can last minutes or even hours in duration.
Often a good first port of call to accessing care is your GP. In Australia, your family doctor can refer you to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. You need a referral in order to receive a Medicare rebate. You can see a psychologist or psychiatrist online or in person. They will be able to diagnose you and commence your treatment.
There are currently two forms of therapy the National Institute of Health Care Excellence (UK) recommends. They are Trauma-focused CBT and EMDR. There are many psychologists across Australia who do both forms of therapy
Generally, therapy is the first-line treatment for PTSD. Therapists use antidepressants most commonly as a medication for PTSD. Your doctor will prescribe you medication if therapy isn’t providing you adequate symptom relief. In the short term, we also can use sedative medication to help with PTSD.
Consider speaking with your GP regarding symptoms you experience that might suggest PTSD. They will be able to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Contact our friendly coordination team to book an appointment with one of our clinicians.
On 22 December 2021, the National Health and Medical Research Council updated the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. These guidelines provide recommendations reflecting current evidence on how to better respond to the needs and preferences of people living with these mental health issues. You can find the guideline on the Phoenix Australia website.
These Guidelines have been endorsed by each of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and the Australian Psychological Society.