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How to spot: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Amanda Collins

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD as it’s more commonly referred to, happens in reaction to trauma.

To understand PTSD it is first important to know what trauma is and how it happens.

help for PTSD

What is a trauma?

Basically, trauma can happen when a person either faces the possibility of death, serious injury or violence.

People who witness things like car accidents, someone dying or someone getting seriously injured can also suffer serious trauma, as can those who face the unexpected death or serious injury of a friend or family member.

Traumatic events that can also trigger PTSD include:

  • A serious accident
  • A natural disaster (like a bushfire, cyclone or flood)
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Being involved in war.

Who can get trauma

Anyone can go through trauma. In fact, every single day, millions of people from all different walks of life will endure a trauma.

Trauma can strike at any time and it works by stripping people of their understanding of how the world works and stealing their sense of safety, leaving them confused, feeling unsafe and scared.

After a trauma

After people suffer trauma they usually experience fear, sadness, anger, guilt and grief. This storm of emotions usually lasts for several weeks, and then it calms down.

But for some, the nightmare continues and they develop PTSD. Their nervous system gets stuck in a form of alert, their mind relives the trauma over and over again, and in some cases their brain chemistry and structure can change.

How to spot PTSD

To be diagnosed with PTSD a person must be showing signs of several of the below symptoms for one month or more after the trauma event.


  • Avoiding people, places or things that remind them of the trauma
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Easily startled
  • Always on guard for danger
  • Constantly alert
  • Increased alcohol or drug use


  • Frequent nightmares about the event
  • Night terrors
  • Flashbacks of the trauma
  • Reoccurring memories of the trauma
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Detachment from the environment


  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble sleeping


  • Frequent bouts of fear or terror
  • Bursts of anger
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Trouble expressing emotions
  • Numbness and a difficulty connecting to people
  • Indifference to living life
  • Lingering guilt
  • Restlessness/feeling caged in

If you think someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, click here to find out how you can help. Alternatively, if you think you may be suffering PTSD, read how you can get help here.

Do you want to help?

If you have always had a passion for helping people, then working as a counsellor may be the perfect career for you. Open Colleges has a number of counselling qualifications, and features a flexible learning model so you can fit study around your life. To learn more, visit the Open Colleges website at

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