Regardless of the event, they share one thing in common – they’re traumatic for the individual, and support for those impacted must be front of mind this PTSD Awareness Day, Tuesday 27 June 2023.
Traumatic events can occur in people’s lives without warning and can affect victims and emergency responders alike. A stark example of this has been recent bus crashes, one in Melbourne’s west injuring 18 children, and another in the Hunter Valley killing 10 people.
These types of events are common, unfortunately, and most people will experience at least one during their lives.
Trauma comes in many forms and affects thousands of Australians every day. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but about five to ten per cent of Australians will suffer from the mental health disorder at some point in their lives.
That means that, at any one time, over one million Australians have PTSD.
What defines a traumatic event?
Traumatic events can include serious accidents, physical assault, war, natural disasters, sexual assault or abuse, and witnessing the trauma of others.
Trauma can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. It can affect any of us physically and emotionally, and the way we see ourselves, others, and the world around us.
In the first days and weeks after a traumatic event, people often experience strong feelings of fear, sadness, guilt, anger, or grief. For most people, as they begin to make sense of what has happened to them, these feelings usually start to subside. For others, however, a traumatic event can lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, or alcohol and drug use, and negative impacts on their relationships with family, friends, and work.
What is PTSD?
A person with PTSD has four main types of difficulties:
- Re-living the traumatic event – through unwanted memories, vivid nightmares, flashbacks, or intense reactions such as heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event
- Feeling wound up – having trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling angry or irritable, taking risks, becoming easily startled, or constantly being on the look-out for danger
- Avoiding reminders of the event – activities, places, people, thoughts, or feelings that bring back memories of the trauma
- Negative thoughts and feelings – feeling afraid, angry, guilty, flat, or numb a lot of the time, losing interest in day-to-day activities, feeling cut off from friends and family.
Resilience is common, and people react differently
People can differ in their response to adversity. The majority adapt successfully, but some will experience ongoing difficulties.
Until recently, resilience among people exposed to trauma was thought to be rare. But recent research paints a different picture, telling us that resilience is, in fact, the most common, natural reaction to loss or trauma.
However, the complexity of human responses to trauma is also being discovered. We now know that people follow different trajectories of response in the wake of major life stressors.
Resilience is the most common response (50-60 per cent of people), while other reactions include a recovery response where symptoms reduce over time (15-25 per cent), or chronic issues develop or persist (5-25 per cent), and the delayed onset of difficulties occurs (0-15 per cent).
What treatment is available?
Almost everyone who goes through a traumatic event will be emotionally affected in some way.
For some, the effects may reduce relatively quickly, while for others it can be long lasting.
If you are still experiencing problems two weeks after a traumatic event, it is worth talking to your GP or a mental health professional to assess how you are going and to see if treatment would be helpful.
Effective treatments for PTSD are available, and include psychological therapy, medication, or a combination of both. These treatments can work even if your traumatic experience was a long time ago.
Most people who experience a traumatic event recover with the help of family and friends, but there are effective treatments available for those needing extra support.
If you, or someone you know needs assistance, contact:
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- Open Arms – 1800 011 046
- Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
- 1800RESPECT (National domestic, family, and sexual violence counselling service) – 1800 737 732
- MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
- 13 YARN (service run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) – 13 92 76
- Q Life (LGBTI support and referral) – 1800 184 527