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Post-traumatic stress disorder

suicide; violence; rape; sexual; assault; war; post-traumatic stress disorder; trauma; stress; disaster; PTSD; flashbacks;


When something happens that seriously threatens someone's life or the lives of friends or family it is natural that a person may experience extreme distress at the time and after the event.

Our topic Surviving trauma talks about people's reactions to trauma and what can be done to help them  recover.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious anxiety reaction that develops in a small number of people after overwhelmingly frightening or traumatic events. It can last for a long time after a traumatic event. In the past it has been called by other names such as 'shell shock', 'battle fatigue', 'accident neurosis' and 'rape trauma syndrome'. It can happen to people of any age, culture or gender.

Symptoms of PTSD

There are 3 main groups of problems experienced by people with PTSD:

Intrusive symptoms: Memories and images of the traumatic events may intrude as vivid daytime memories, dreams and 'flashback' experiences. These occur suddenly and without an obvious cause. People often have intense feelings at the same time, such as grief, guilt, fear or anger. They may be so vivid that the person thinks the event is happening again.

Avoidance symptoms: People may avoid situations, people or events which remind them of the experience. They may withdraw into themselves in an attempt to shut out the painful feelings and memories. They may feel unable to relate emotionally even to people they are very close to – this may affect relationships, as others feel rejected by the person with PTSD.

Arousal symptoms: People with PTSD may feel jumpy or constantly on guard. They may have problems getting off to sleep, and have disturbed sleep. They may feel irritable and angry with themselves, others around them and the world in general. They often report memory and concentration problems.


  • People with PTSD often develop problems at work and in relationships with family and friends.
  • Depression is a common problem for people with PTSD.
  • Many people with PTSD develop harmful patterns of alcohol and other drug use.


Treatment of PTSD

There are many types of treatment for PTSD but most include:

  • information to understand reactions to trauma
  • stress management techniques
  • dealing with the memories (cognitive behaviour therapy)
  • use of medication (mostly antidepressants).

One of the important parts of recovery is getting to know that others have had the same reactions and feelings after severe trauma. Meeting other people as part of a group of people with similar experience (eg war veterans) has proven useful in helping them deal with the trauma.

Supporting someone with PTSD

  • Offer general support. The person will need to feel safe and cared for. It can be helpful to offer to share everyday tasks.
  • Be willing to listen. It is really important for the person to be able to talk about what happened and to try to make sense of it. But not all people can do this easily and it might be very hard to listen to. Encourage the person to get professional help if you find you cannot manage listening or he is not able to talk.
  • Recognise that PTSD can affect people in different ways and in different ways on different days.
  • Get support for yourself if you have a close relationship with someone who has PTSD, as it can be very difficult to persist with supporting a person who is changeable, sometimes angry, irritable and even rejecting.

Someone with PTSD in your family

  • If one of your parents or someone else in the family suffers from PTSD, it can affect your life in different ways. It is important to remember that it is nothing you have done or brought about.
  • The person with PTSD may find it hard to express emotions or may be withdrawn from the family. This can make other members of the family feel pushed away.
  • If one parent is left with most of the job of 'running the family', this parent can begin to suffer due to this added burden.
  • If the person with PTSD is worried about perceived dangers, they can become controlling. Other family members can feel trapped by their over-protective behaviour.
  • Sometimes the person suffering PTSD can think the way they are acting is normal. Other members of the family can be confused by this and not get a chance to discuss their fears or problems.


South Australia 

  • The Youth Health Service
    - Central: 57 Hyde St, Adelaide
    - South: 50a Beach Rd, Christies Beach
    - North: 6 Gillingham Rd, Elizabeth
    - West: 51 Bower St, Woodville
  • Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
    Northern Services
    c/- Women's & Children's Hospital
    72 King William Rd, North Adelaide 5006
    Tel: 8161 7389, 1800 819 089
    Fax: 8161 7371 
  • Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
    Southern Services
    c/- Flinders Medical Centre
    Bedford Park 5042
    Tel. 8204 5412
    Fax 8204 5465 
  • Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service
    'Sons and Daughters' For information



Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health - publications:

Leslie-Adams, A. 'I thought it was just me…'. Information for the children of Vietnam veterans about PTSD and the family, 1999. From the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service.

Janice A. Sabin, J. et al. 'Primary Care Utilization and Detection of Emotional Distress After Adolescent Traumatic Injury: Identifying an Unmet Need' Pediatrics, Jan 2006; 117: 130 - 138.  

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence 'Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): the treatment of PTSD in adults and children' March 2005  

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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