What is PTSD? An in-depth understanding

If you think you could be living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you aren't alone.

In this article, we're going to explain what PTSD is, what causes it, and how you can recover from it with effective treatment and management strategies.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after you experience or witness a traumatic event.

Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD are often extremely overwhelming or shocking, and are often associated with injury, death, assault or violence.

These events can range from a single, isolated event such as a car accident or a natural disaster, to long-term, repeated trauma such as abuse or neglect, or being exposed to an overwhelming situation for a long period of time, such as a war zone.

The type of trauma that can lead to PTSD is different for everyone, with the main defining characteristic being that the experience is overwhelming and can cause lasting psychological damage.

These events can be physical, emotional or both.

While living with PTSD can be extremely challenging, PTSD is classified as a treatable anxiety disorder, which means there is a lot of hope for recovery if you are living with this condition.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD will feel different to everyone and can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Re-experiencing trauma through memories, intrusive thoughts or dreams
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Changes in your mood and thoughts, such as finding it difficult to remember details of the traumatic event, as well as feeling guilt, fear, shame or having a generally low mood.
  • Behaviour changes, such as feeling more anxious, having trouble sleeping and concentrating, and acting more recklessly.

If you think you might be experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important you reach out to a mental health professional for support.

Remember that no symptom is 'too small' to talk to a healthcare professional about, and support is available no matter what stage you are at.

To learn more, head to our deep-dive blog on PTSD symptoms and how to know if you have it.

Causes of PTSD

While experiencing a traumatic event is the root cause of PTSD, not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop PTSD.

A few factors that can influence the way you respond to an overwhelming or shocking experience, and whether you develop PTSD include:

  • The age you experienced the traumatic event
  • Genetic factors
  • Your personality
  • Coping methods
  • How you personally view the event

Daily challenges of living with PTSD

Living with PTSD can come with a host of regular challenges, which can impact your everyday life and activities, including:

  • Difficulty keeping a job
  • Difficulty completing day-to-day tasks
  • Difficulty relating to family and friends
  • Emotional/mental exhaustion
  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty attending events and other enjoyable activities, due to wanting to avoid triggers
  • Other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety

When you are living with PTSD, you can often seem distant from others around you, as a result of trying to not think or feel to avoid facing painful memories or thoughts.

Overall, this can make everyday life harder than usual.

However, with the right support and strategies in place, it is extremely possible to overcome this mental health condition, and get back to living your life, on your terms.

Treatment and management of PTSD

Although it can take time, if you have the right supports in place PTSD is a condition that is extremely treatable, and that most people recover from.

If you think you might be living with PTSD, it's important you visit a GP as soon as possible to get the right treatment plan in place.

Your treatment plan may consist of a combination of both medical, psychological and self-help strategies, such as:


Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy and is the main form of treatment for PTSD.

It can help you to process traumatic memories, understand how your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are connected, and develop coping strategies for managing your symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used type of psychotherapy for PTSD.


Your GP may also suggest medication to help manage your symptoms.

Commonly prescribed medications for PTSD include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

It's important to note that medication alone is not enough to treat PTSD, and should be used in combination with psychotherapy.

It's also important to note that medication should only be taken if prescribed by your GP.

Self-help strategies

Along with support from medical professionals, there are a number of self-help strategies you can use to help manage your PTSD symptoms.

Some great strategies you can try yourself include getting regular exercise, joining a support group, staying connected to your support network of family and friends, practicing mindfulness techniques, and connecting with other people who have had similar experiences to you.

Taking time to relax and do activities that you enjoy can also help to reduce stress levels.

Common misconceptions about PTSD

There are many common misconceptions surrounding PTSD, some of which include:

  • PTSD is just in your head – PTSD is actually a recognised and treatable mental health condition.
  • Only soldiers or veterans develop PTSD – anyone who has experienced a traumatic event in the past can develop PTSD, including veterans and soldiers.
  • You should be able to 'just get over' a traumatic event – Remember that PTSD is not a weakness, it is a recognised mental health condition that requires effective treatment and management. You cannot simply just move on from PTSD without any support.
  • Medicine can cure PTSD – while PTSD is treatable and many people do recover from it, medication is not a cure. Instead, a combination of medication, therapy and coping strategies all work together to provide a holistic recovery and treatment plan.
  • People living with PTSD can't function in daily life – while the severity of PTSD varies from person to person and no two PTSD experiences are the same, with the right support, medical help and management strategies, people can lead an extremely fulfilling life while living with this condition.

Support for people living with PTSD

If you think you might be living with PTSD, it's important that you reach out and access support when you need it.

Support can come in many different forms, including:

  • A health care professional, such as your GP
  • A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or counsellor
  • Mental health helplines, such as Lifeline, SANE Australia, Beyond Blue or Open Arms (specifically for Australian Defence Force members and their families)
  • NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), which can provide funding for eligible people living with PTSD to access the support you need
  • Employment support, such as APM Disability Employment Services to help you find and keep meaningful work
  • Online support forums and communities, such as SANE Australia

No matter where you're at on your journey, support is always available when you need it, and no problem is too small to warrant reaching out for help.

While PTSD is a serious and challenging mental health condition to live with, understanding what it is, what it is not and what support is available is the first step to recovery and getting back to living your life on your terms.