Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in some people who have experienced an event that has shocked, frightened or stressed them. It’s a natural human response to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. The term ‘fight-or-flight response’ is often used to describe the body’s instinctive reaction to protect a person from coming to harm. Almost everyone experiences a wide range of reactions after trauma, and most people recover gradually from those initial symptoms.

Those who continue to experience equally intense reactions may have PTSD; they continue to feel stressed, anxious or frightened even when they are not in imminent danger.

PTSD is just one kind of stress disorder; there are many others. It’s less important to know exactly what type of stress disorder a person has and more important to focus on getting them the help they need to work through their stress and trauma in a healthy way with the assistance of a qualified mental health professional.


As with most mental health problems, PTSD is believed to be caused by a complex combination of factors, including:

  • Stressful experiences and their cumulative intensity and impact
  • A family history of mental health problems or temperament
  • Brain chemicals and hormones and how your body reacts to stress

Signs & Indications

Signs of PTSD may appear at any time after a traumatic event. They may be unwanted or intrusive memories; avoiding thinking about or being exposed to people, places and activities that bring back memories of the event; or changes in physical or emotional reactions.

Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Upsetting dreams, flashbacks and emotional distress
  • Avoiding talking about the event, and staying away from people, places and activities associated with it
  • Memory problems, lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities and becoming detached from family and friends
  • Being easily frightened or startled, unable to relax
  • Always being on guard, irritable, angry or aggressive
  • Trouble sleeping or focusing
  • Self-destructive, harmful behaviour like substance abuse or driving too fast

The intensity of responses can vary over time. Getting help as soon as possible can help PTSD from worsening.

Seek treatment immediately if you are thinking of ending your life. If someone you know is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt to do so, do not leave them alone, and call for help immediately.


After a traumatic or stressful event, it’s natural to keep thinking about what has happened; fear, anger, anxiety, depression and guilt are natural reactions. The majority of people do not develop PTSD.

Getting help early can prevent the natural reaction to stress from developing into full-blown PTSD. Family and friends can offer support and comfort. A mental health professional can provide therapy to work through these reactions in a constructive and sustainable fashion to achieve long-term mental well-being.

The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is.