Complex post traumatic stress disorder: What is complex PTSD, and how do I know if I have it?

If you or somebody in your life has experienced complex trauma, there is a chance you have heard about PTSD.

Still, you may not know about complex PTSD, a relatively new diagnosis for those who have experienced chronic trauma or childhood trauma.

This article will discuss the additional symptoms presented with complex PTSD, how the diagnosis process works, the treatment plans, and some additional support on how you could get help within the workplace.

What is complex post traumatic stress disorder?

Complex post traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, or c-PTSD) is a mental disorder that combines PTSD with additional symptoms.

Complex PTSD can occur after constant and prolonged traumatic stress and long-term trauma, for example, child abuse or domestic violence.

Complex PTSD can also be caused by witnessing traumatic events, particularly if those events put a person's life or safety in danger.

What are the symptoms of complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD, or c-PTSD, is experienced with different symptoms for every individual.

Although symptoms vary from person to person, some common symptoms occur.

This list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive and is not advised to be used as a method of self-diagnosis.

However, if you experience one or some of the following symptoms, speaking with a doctor to discuss getting some help and a potential diagnosis may be a good idea.

Mental health disorders can often be intertwined, and it can take a long time for many to get a separate diagnosis of c-PTSD.

If you are experiencing any mental health issues that are yet to be diagnosed, it is recommended that you connect with mental health professionals or a doctor to get the help you need.

Below are some of the common symptoms of complex PTSD:

  • Difficulty controlling or expressing your emotions
  • Experiencing a lot of pent-up anger
  • Feeling generally distrustful towards the world
  • Constantly feeling hopeless and empty
  • Feeling worthless and damaged and other negative self-beliefs
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, often withdrawing from relationships altogether
  • Experiencing dissociative symptoms
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, stomach aches and chest pains. If you are experiencing any form of chest pain, it is recommended to see a doctor as soon as possible

How to get diagnosed with complex PTSD?

If you believe that you could have c-PTSD or you have experienced childhood trauma or complex trauma and some other PTSD symptoms, it is advised that you seek help through a health professional.

You do not have to go through this on your own, and there are ways to help manage your extreme stress and core symptoms and minimise the potential risk factors of undiagnosed complex PTSD.

Although getting a diagnosis may seem scary at first, it is an essential step in getting you set up with a treatment plan that can help with emotional regulation and get you on track for a happier and healthier life.

To get diagnosed with complex PTSD, you must make an initial appointment with a mental health professional.

You will likely need to first book in with your GP to get a referral to receive the government rebates.

When you make your initial appointment with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, you can tell them that you may have complex PTSD and note your symptoms.

During your appointment, you will likely be asked about any chronic trauma, past symptoms and medical history.

You may also be asked to complete several questionnaires to determine if you show symptoms of c-PTSD.

After this, your psychologist or psychiatrist will present you with a diagnosis.

If you have been diagnosed with complex PTSD, you will also work on developing a treatment plan for your future.

What are the treatment options for complex PTSD?

While there is still yet to be a general consensus on a c-PTSD-specific treatment plan, complex PTSD is treated as per PTSD.

Usually, complex PTSD is best treated with long-term regular psychological therapy.

Through therapy, patients are able to slowly regain trust in others and open up to inviting friendships, relationships and healthy work relationships into their lives.

Maintaining regular relationships with health professionals such as GPs, psychologists and other health professionals is recommended.

Moving around or changing health professionals will not allow patients to regain trust in the world around them.

Complex PTSD is often linked to other mental disorders such as alcoholism, anxiety and depression.

Each of these mental disorders must also be treated to ensure a holistic and successful treatment plan.

Are you struggling with complex PTSD in the workplace?

If you are having trouble with complex posttraumatic stress disorder within the workplace, we can help you.

You may be eligible to receive additional support within your current workplace or to find a new job that better supports your condition.

PTSD is one of APM's supported conditions for disability employment services.

Through the Disability Employment Services program, APM assists people with illnesses, injuries, and disabilities in finding and keeping employment.

Participation in this program is free since the Australian Government funds it.