Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may occur after a person has been exposed to a significant traumatic event, including those that threaten life. Serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) means that you may be more likely to be exposed to one or more traumatic events. The trauma may relate to combat, deployment, being involved in peacekeeping missions and the stressors and risks associated with these activities. Research also indicates that non-deployed veterans experience rates of  PTSD equal to those who have been deployed. This is likely due to the unique individual experiences people have in military life. 

Whilst it is normal to experience some level of distress when confronted with a traumatic event, most people do recover within a relatively short period of time (one to two weeks). However, depending on the level of support available from friends, community and health professionals, whether they have existing coping strategies, environmental factors, genetics and the number of traumatic incidents experienced, some people’s symptoms will not resolve quickly, and they may develop PTSD. Symptoms may develop quickly or occur many months or years after the trauma has been experienced.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD 
  • Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s)
  • Recurrent distressing dreams related to the traumatic event(s)
  • Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) where you may feel like you’re reliving the event
  • Intense distress such as fear, confusion, anger, irritability and negative thinking, at exposure to internal or external cues that remind you of the traumatic event(s)
  • Physical reactions such as palpitations, sweating, shaking, nausea, dizziness and sleep disturbance in response to reminders of the traumatic event(s)
  • Avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, feelings and external reminders of the traumatic event
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Reckless or self-destructive behaviour
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Sleep disturbance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep)
  • Feelings of panic or extreme fear, resembling what was felt during the traumatic event(s). 

Managing symptoms of PTSD 

With treatment, approximately one third of people who are diagnosed with PTSD completely recover, one third may partially recover (that is, experience some residual symptoms) and one third will benefit minimally or not at all from treatment. Whilst recovery may not be possible for all people there are effective trauma focussed psychological treatments such as Trauma Informed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help treat and manage symptoms. These formal treatments along with sensible self-care such as eating healthy, exercising, being around supportive people, taking medications as prescribed, minimising alcohol and drug use and taking time out to relax can assist in the management and recovery from PTSD.

Where to get help

If you’re a veteran or family member who is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, or have been diagnosed and need support, reach out to Mates4Mates on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) for a confidential chat.

Alternatively, talk to a trusted General Practitioner about your health concerns or for 24-hour crisis-support phone Open Arms on 1800 011 046. If it’s an emergency, phone 000. 

Other helpful resources