What causes PTSD?

The situations we find traumatic can vary from person to person and different events can lead to PTSD. It may be that your responses have been bottled up for a long time after the traumatic event has passed. Your problems may only emerge months or sometimes years after a traumatic experience, affecting your ability to lead your life as you’d like to.

A traumatic event could include:

  • a serious accident, for example a car crash
  • an event where you fear for your life
  • being physically assaulted
  • being raped or sexually assaulted
  • abuse in childhood
  • a traumatic childbirth, either as a mother or a partner witnessing a traumatic birth
  • extreme violence or war
  • military combat
  • seeing people hurt or killed
  • a natural disaster, such as flooding or an earthquake
  • losing someone close to you in disturbing circumstances.

“I was mugged and then about a year later I was on the Tube when the police were trying to arrest someone who had a gun. In neither experience was I physically injured – although in the second one I thought I was going to die and that I was going to see lots of other people die.”

The following factors may also make you more vulnerable to developing PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, or might make the problems you experience more severe:

  • experiencing repeated trauma
  • getting physically hurt or feeling pain
  • having little or no support from friends, family or professionals
  • dealing with extra stress at the same time, such as bereavement or loss
  • previously experiencing anxiety or depression.

Anyone can experience a traumatic event, but you may be more likely to have experienced one if you:

  • work in a high risk occupation, such as the police or military
  • are a refugee or asylum seeker
  • have suffered childhood abuse.

Different types of trauma can have different types of impact. If you experienced trauma at an early age or if the trauma went on for a long time then you may be diagnosed with ‘complex PTSD’. Treating ‘complex PTSD’ usually requires more long-term, intensive help than supporting you to recover from a one-off traumatic event.

“I was […] having uncontrollable flashbacks, regularly felt suicidal. I was emotionally numb, kept people distant and was prone to drastic loss of self control and anger.”

Previous page Next page