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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, Statistics & Stories

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

According to American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that PTSD is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However, symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later.

Not everyone with PTSD has experienced direct trauma. Some people develop PTSD after a family or friend experiences trauma. The death of a loved one can also lead to PTSD. (SANE, 2019).

How many people are affected by PTSD?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 3.6% of the world’s population has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The majority of people will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. While men tend to experience more traumatic events than women, women usually experience higher impact events that lead to PTSD such as sexual assault and interpersonal violence. (NCBI, 2005)

What are the PTSD symptoms?

If a person has been through a traumatic event and has experienced a combination of these main symptoms for a month or more, then they may be experiencing PTSD:

1. Intrusive thoughts

  • Repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event.

2. Avoiding reminders of the event

  • Avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories.

3. Negative thoughts and feelings

  • Ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.

4. Arousal and reactive symptoms

  • Being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping. In fact, between 70% and 91% of adults with PTSD have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and up to 71% report having nightmares, which can jolt them awake at night. Read more on how PTSD affects sleep on The Mattress Nerd.

People at risk of PTSD:

  • Victims of violent crime (e.g. physical and sexual assaults, sexual abuse, bombings, riots)
  • Members of the armed forces, police, journalists and prison service, fire service, ambulance and emergency personnel, including those no longer in service
  • Victims of war, torture, state-sanctioned violence or terrorism, and refugees
  • Survivors of accidents and disasters
  • Women following traumatic childbirth, individuals diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

Symptom references:
American Psychiatric Association
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
The Mattress Nerd

What does PTSD feel like in real life?

See what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who has PTSD in the following video.

Disclaimer: The PTSD simulation video might trigger discomfort and anxiety attacks, so watch at your own risk.

PTSD stories

Story 1: At 16, Sitara was on one of the trains attacked during 7/7 London bombings. She suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety following the traumatic incident.

“I started to suffer from nightmares and panic attacks. I used to hate being around smoke and people who were covered in fake blood. Even now, I refuse to use a certain exit at King’s Cross station because it reminds me of that day. It broke me down very quickly. I found surviving was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”

Read Sitara’s full story on Mental Health Foundation

Story 2: A woman sexually abused by her father from the age of 10 until 15½ struggled to keep her childhood trauma until she was in her mid-40s.

“I had always known that I had been sexually abused. That knowledge had never left me. But the enormity of that knowledge and the constant pressure of having to maintain my silence had created a legacy within my body. Headaches, irritable bowel, back pain, gynaecological problems, an irrational fear of thunderstorms, startle reaction, and sleeplessness were all clear indicators that something was wrong.”

Read her full story here

• American Psychiatric Association (APA)
• Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
• Mental Health Foundation UK
• National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
• SANE Australia
• World Health Organization (WHO)