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The day was designated to raise awareness for this disorder in the hope that when more people know about the condition, more people who suffer from it will get proper treatment. In Australia, the day is recognised by the Department of Health but awareness of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is still low. There are quite a few things that are not common knowledge.
Did you know that over 1 million Australians at any one time have PTSD?
PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a set of reactions that can occur after someone has been through a traumatic event.
The chance of developing PTSD depends on the type of event experienced, but about 5-10% of Australians will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. PTSD is the most common mental health disorder following depression.
Did you know that many people have PTSD but don’t realise it?
Unfortunately only half of the people who suffer PTSD will seek treatment, so it’s important to recognise the symptoms. The main symptoms of PTSD are:
- Re-living the traumatic event through distressing, unwanted memories, vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks.
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event, including activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings that bring back memories of the trauma.
- Negative thoughts and feelings such as fear, anger, guilt, or feeling flat or numb a lot of the time.
- Feeling wound-up. This might mean having trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling angry or irritable, taking risks, being easily startled, and/or being constantly on the lookout for danger.
Did you know PTSD is not limited to only those in the military or emergency services?
While it’s true that around 1 in 10 military personnel and emergency service workers worldwide have PTSD, it is not limited to these populations.
PTSD is usually associated with military experiences but any event that involves experiencing or witnessing actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence has the potential to be traumatic. Most people will recover quite quickly after the trauma with the help of family and friends. For some, the effects can be long-lasting.
Types of traumatic events that can cause PTSD include:
- war and military experiences
- sexual or physical assault
- death or injury of a close person
- car crashes or other serious accidents
- natural disasters, like fire, hurricane, flood or earthquake
- terrorist attacks.
You can develop PTSD after single or multiple traumatic events and children can also experience PTSD. For more information, visit our Helping children and teens page. We also have a range of resources for people working in high risk industries, military and ex-military personnel and other specific populations.
PTSD is not a sign of weakness and no one should feel ashamed to seek help.
Did you know that there are effective treatments for PTSD?
Effective treatments for PTSD are available, and include counselling, medication, or a combination of both:
- Counselling: It is generally best to start with counselling rather than use medication as the first and only solution to the problem. Recommended counselling approaches for PTSD include trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).
- Medication: The medications usually used to treat PTSD are antidepressants. Even if you don’t have depression, antidepressants can help make feelings associated with trauma more manageable. There are different kinds of antidepressants, but research has shown that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most likely to help.
Did you know that there are things you can do to support a loved one with PTSD?
Support from family and friends is important for people with PTSD. There are many ways you can help:
- Plan enjoyable activities. Do enjoyable things with them, and encourage them to plan to do at least one enjoyable thing each day. You may need to help them come up with some ideas by asking what activities they used to enjoy before the traumatic event, or making some suggestions.
- Check in with them regularly and provide emotional support. They may or may not want to talk about their experience or feelings. If they do want to talk, choose a time to talk when you won’t feel rushed or tired, and don’t feel like you have to make their distress go away or say ‘the right thing’.
- Offer to go to the doctor with them and provide other practical support. You can take notes and help keep track of medications and treatments. You can also help them to find time and space to recover, by offering to take care of the kids or do the weekly shopping.
- Make a crisis plan together. You can’t always prevent a crisis, but you can learn to recognise triggers and take steps to help them cope. Talk with them ahead of time about what to do during a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack, and encourage them to limit their exposure to media coverage of the event.
Supporting someone who has been through a traumatic event can take a toll on you, so it’s important that you also take time to look after yourself. For more information visit our Helping others page.
Raising awareness is another way you can help. By creating awareness about the disorder and overcoming the stigma around it, more people will be able to access the help that they need.
If you have experienced something traumatic and are still having problems two weeks or more later, talk to your GP or a mental health professional. For urgent support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential 24/7 counselling and referrals.