Post-traumatic stress disorder

Other Names:
Posttraumatic amnesia
Delayed psychological distress
Post-attack shock
Post-rape trauma

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is long-term psychological trauma following a life-threatening incident, the degree of which seems to be independent of the extent of physical injury. It can be a natural disasters, disastrous events or accidents, bombing, torture or death camps. Whilst the later distress is triggered by the incident, it may be delayed for months or years. It produces a wide range of symptoms in men and women who have experienced a traumatic event that provoked intense fear, helplessness or horror. The events are sometimes re-experienced later through intrusive memories, nightmares, hallucinations or flashbacks, usually triggered by anything that symbolizes or resembles the trauma. Troubled sleep, irritability, anger, poor concentration, hypervigilance and exaggerated responses are often symptoms. Individuals may feel depression, detachment or estrangement, guilt, intense anxiety and panic and other negative emotions. The person may also tries to avoid thoughts or feelings about the trauma and may even lose the ability to recall some important aspects of it.

The early pattern of distress that points to long-term problems is poorly known. This means PTSD is often under-diagnosed or missed in a medical or surgical outpatient setting, or crisis relief station. Probable early signals of PTSD are depression; recurring memories or flashbacks of the event; patterns of agitation and anxiety, or disordered arousal, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, panic attacks, irritability or outbursts of anger or hypervigilance; and the extent of disassociation (a psychological method of coping) during the accident. Also common is that soon after the traumatic event the person starts suffering from "emotional anaesthesia"—decreased ability to have affectionate feelings towards others.


Studies show that at least 70 percent of the population has had a severe traumatic experience. However, most people recover from trauma. Only 10 to 20 percent of trauma exposures result in long-term PTSD symptoms. Women are four times as likely to develop PTSD when exposed to trauma compared to men. And trauma resulting from intentional events is much more likely to develop into PTSD than trauma resulting from accidents or unintentional events.

Research conducted in Australia found that twenty percent of people involved in traumatic accidents develop PTSD. Three years after suffering a traumatic injury, 19% of 551 adults were worse off psychologically. Of a group of 24 patients involved in serious motor accidents, nine were found to have PTSD to varying degrees one month after the accident; however, when followed up six months later none had been officially diagnosed or received treatment by medical authorities.

In South Africa in 1993 violence had become an integral part of every day life due to the plethora of political killings, revenge slayings and murder by criminals. A form of continuous traumatic stress has been described.

Humanitarian agencies report many new cases of cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes in Bosnia, which were possibly provoked by the trauma of war. Nearly one third of the population are judges to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at least four times higher in the US than in other developed nations, affecting about eight percent of people in the US or eight million adults annually ― around 10 percent of all women and four percent of all men.  About 48 million adults have struggled with PTSD at some point in their lives.

Interestingly, most cases of PTSD are not due to war or organized violence. In fact, 33 percent of reported cases result from sexual violence such as rape or intimate partner violence, 30 percent from intimate relationship trauma such as the death of a loved one or sexual betrayal, and 12 percent from interpersonal violence such as childhood physical abuse or physical assault. Only 11 percent of all cases result from combat exposure or finding dead bodies, and 12 percent from such things as serious car accidents or natural disasters.

According to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Sidran Institute:

  • Among military veterans, over 17 percent develop PTSD. More military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan died from suicide resulting from PTSD than in combat.
  • Among first responders, 32 percent develop PTSD symptoms.
Broader Problems:
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 13: Climate Action
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 08:28 CEST