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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder which can develop after exposure to a traumatic event during which a person’s safety, or that of the people around them, is threatened. PTSD can occur immediately after the event, or appear days, weeks, months or even years later.

A neuropsychologist can help to diagnose and assess PTSD.

Quick facts

Very common
Medium difficulty to treat

Did you know?

In 2007, women experienced higher rates of PTSD than men (8.3% compared with 4.6%)

source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

After witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event such as an accident, assault, sexual abuse, war related events or a natural disaster, it is normal to experience feelings of horror, fear, sadness, shock or anger. Often those feeling will dissipate once the individual has managed to process and work through their emotions, however if after a month there has been no change, then chances are that individual is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD can be a source of constant distress for the sufferer and can produce feelings of helplessness and isolation. Often it can be accompanied by other mental health issues, which if left untreated can develop into more severe psychological problems.

Sufferers of PTSD are at risk of being ‘triggered’ by something which reminds them of the traumatic event, whether than be a sight, sound, smell or mention of a particular word. These ‘triggers’ can result in flashbacks, which can often cause distress or extreme anxiety. With proper diagnosis and treatment, sufferers of PTSD can find relief from their anxiety and return to living a normal life.

Causes of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be caused by a number of different traumatic events, such as:

  • War-related events
  • Car accidents
  • Physical assaults
  • Sexual assault/abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Living in a war zone
  • Witnessing violence or death
  • Experiencing torture

Symptoms of PTSD

Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder often experience extreme and sometimes debilitating symptoms, which can often affect their day-to-day lives and make it difficult to cope with social situations, hold down a job and maintain normal relationships.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include:

  • ‘Re-living’ the event in their mind
  • Attempting to avoid ‘triggers’ or reminders about the event
  • Feelings of emotional numbness
  • Heightened ‘fight or flight’ response
  • Experiencing major distress when ‘triggered’
  • Extreme feelings of fear, guilt or shame
  • Problems sleeping
  • Having recurring nightmares about the event
  • Anxiousness or hyper-alertness
  • Regular ‘flashbacks’ to the event
  • Changes to the way that person thinks or feels
  • Developing a drug or alcohol dependency

Top tips for living with PTSD

  • find a counsellor or therapist you trust that you can talk to
  • join a support group and meet others who understand what you are going through – you are not alone
  • learn to recognise your triggers and understand them
  • communicate with your family and friends – those who love you will want to help
  • get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet
  • try to establish a regular routine and return to regular activities once you are ready
  • avoid alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism – often these will simply make the problem worse
  • if you are in the military, enquire about what support programs are available
  • don’t hesitate to seek medical advice or assistance if you feel overwhelmed or out of control

Effective treatment of PTSD

Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder usually involves some form of psychological therapy, designed to help the sufferer confront the source of their trauma and anxiety, understand it and develop methods of coping. Often medication may also be prescribed, if they are deemed helpful.

A clinical neuropsychologist can help to diagnose and assess sufferers of PTSD.

This page has been produced, reviewed and approved by:

Dr Judy Tang

BSc (Behavioural Neuroscience & Psychology), PhD (Clinical Neuropsychology) MAPS


Dr Judy Tang has over 10 years of career and academic expertise in Clinical Neuropsychology.

With a PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology from Monash University (2008) and a Bachelor of Science with honours (majoring in psychology and behavioural neuroscience), she provides neuropsychological services for medico-legal and community settings, workshops and seminars both to her professional peers and wider community, as well as advocacy in the areas of health and community care.

Simultaneously, she also works with the Lincoln Centre for Research on Ageing, researching persons with dementia and their carers, as well as the ACAS evaluation unit. Her mastery of quantitative research has been utilised on the state and national level for its Aged Care Assessment Program. She has also worked as a Rehabilitation Consultant for CRS Australia.

Among numerous organizations, she is an executive member of the Australian Association of Gerontology’s Victorian branch (AAG), a member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the college of Clinical Neuropsychologists (CCN), and the Victorian Police and Multicultural Advisory Committee.

In addition to speaking frequently at professional seminars and conferences around the world, Judy is also published in numerous journals on such topics as healthy ageing, anxiety and pain, and dementia.

This document was last updated and reviewed in May 2016.

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