Anxiety and Depression

Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

6 August 2020  |   3 min read

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) is a major psychological disorder that affects many people who survive major traumatic experiences. However, not everybody who suffers an accident or injury will suffer from PSTD. When the body suffers major trauma, the mind may become disturbed as well. Four elements appear to define an event as traumatic from a psychological point of view:

It is an overwhelming event.

  • It is unexpected.
  • It threatens life and limb, either your own or that of someone you love.
  • It causes intense fear, horror, and especially helplessness in the person involved. The event causes a high level of distress.

It is not the magnitude of the external event, but rather the impact on the victim and whether this impact will overwhelm the victim’s psychological capacities, that determines whether the sufferer will end up with psychological scars

Signs and Symptoms

Sufferers experience a distinct pattern of symptoms that develop in the aftermath of an acute and traumatic event, with symptoms beginning shortly after the event, and possibly lasting for years. The symptoms include:

  • Recurring, intrusive thoughts: re-experiencing the events involuntarily, in the form of recollections, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks
  • Hyper-arousal phenomena: this includes anxiety, irritability, quickness to anger and a sense of feeling exhausted from being continuously alert.
  • Intense psychological distress when exposed to cues that resemble aspects of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance of anything associated with the traumatic event. One common description is of avoiding watching television or movies for fear of seeing scenes that remind the sufferer of the trauma.
  • A sense of numbness and emotional distancing from others (diminished involvement in activities).
  • A sense of a foreshortened future.


Conventionally, treatment consists of two arms: medication and therapy.

  • Medication

    Antidepressants are usually prescribed. Other medicines may be given, depending on the symptoms experienced by the individual.

  • Cognitive Schools of Therapy

    The main aims of treatment are to reduce intrusive experiences, dampen hyper-arousal and reduce behavioural avoidance. The secondary aims of treatment are for the sufferer to develop a more realistic interpretation of events, to promote feelings of safety and to improve functioning in interpersonal, work and leisure areas.

    In recent times, ‘power therapies’ which seem to promise quick relief in a few sessions, have been introduced. One of these techniques is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Processing (EMDR)

    There is no standard treatment approach for all sufferers. The therapist will recommend treatment based on an in-depth understanding of the sufferer – his development, history, vulnerabilities, strengths and symptom profile.

To make an appointment to see a doctor, please call 6389 2200.

You can call the below helpline if you require emotional support

  • IMH (24-hour Helpline) – Tel: 6389 2222

Republished with permission from Institute of Mental Health.