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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops in some people following a traumatic event.1

PTSD overview

There can be many possible causes of PTSD, such as exposure to sexual violence, war, physical assault, a natural disaster, or a vehicle accident.2 A person may develop PTSD after experiencing the trauma themselves, witnessing it, or even learning about a trauma that affected a close relative or friend.2


PTSD can have a significant impact on aspects of people’s daily lives.3

Facts about PTSD

PTSD develops in some people after experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, exposure to sexual violence, war, physical assault, a natural disaster, or a vehicle accident.2

People with PTSD may suffer from distressing memories and flashbacks, self-blame, and may actively avoid reminders of the traumatic event.3


The symptoms of PTSD can be characterised into four main types:4



  • Re-experiencing the trauma – recurrent memories, nightmares, and flashbacks
  • Avoidance symptoms – avoiding thoughts, feelings, objects, people, or places that are associated with the trauma
  • Negative thoughts and emotions – exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself or the world, shame or guilt, reduced emotion, feeling alienated, and difficulty remembering details of the trauma
  • Changes in arousal or emotional responses – irritability, being in a state of high alert, reckless behaviour, sleep disturbance, and difficulty concentrating


Symptoms of PTSD vary widely from person to person; some people may experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable followed by a period of worsening and others may have constant severe symptoms.3 The timing of symptoms may also vary – most people with PTSD experience symptoms immediately after the traumatic event, whereas, in others, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms develop.3

1 in 3

people who have a traumatic experience are estimated to be affected by PTSD.1

~ 3.9%

of people worldwide (based on a study of 71,083 people) experience PTSD in their lifetime.5

Epidemiology and burden

Approximately 1 in 3 people who experience a traumatic experience will be affected by PTSD, although it’s not clear why some develop the condition and others do not.1 PTSD is more common in women than in men, and women tend to experience PTSD for a longer duration than men.2


PTSD can have negative consequences in many aspects of people’s lives, including intimate relationships, friendships and socialising, parenting, finances, and work and academic performance.6


A global survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that people with PTSD miss an average of 15 additional days of work or activities per year, compared with people without PTSD.7

Facts about Post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD can occur at any age, even in very young children.2,3

PTSD can have a negative effect on intimate relationships, friendships and socialising, parenting, work and academic performance, and finances.6

Diagnosis and care

PTSD is diagnosed through an assessment with a doctor, to understand the symptoms that the individual is experiencing. They may decide a referral to a mental health specialist is beneficial.8


Treatment of PTSD usually involves psychotherapy – tailored behavioural and emotional support from professionals – and may involve medication.8 It’s possible to successfully treat PTSD even many years after the traumatic event or events occurred so it’s never too late to seek help.8

Charity Links

The work that UK charities undertake helps to provide patients with access to support, information and education.

  1. Post-traumatic stress disorder overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/overview/ [Accessed March 2022]
  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms/ [Accessed March 2022]
  4. Lancaster et al. J Clin Med 2016;5(11):105
  5. Koenen et al. Psychol Med 2017;47(13):2260-2274
  6. Rodriguez et al. J Rehabil Res Dev 2012;49(5):649-665
  7. Alonso et al. Mol Psychiatry 2011;16(12):1234-1246
  8. Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/treatment/ [Accessed March 2022]

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