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An Informative Guide to the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects seven or eight people out of every 100 — or about 8 per cent of the population in Canada. This stats come from the National Centre for PTSD.

Of 24 countries studied, Canada showed the highest rate of occurrence — about 9.2 per cent of Canadians.

Women develop the disorder almost twice as much as men do, although PTSD knows no bounds.

There are some more common reasons to develop PTSD, but many factors that affect victims can be out of their control. For example, vicarious trauma can occur from parent to child or client to trauma worker.

Additionally, disadvantaged people or those in wealthier countries may be more likely to develop the disorder.

Regardless of your reason for developing PTSD, you are not alone.

Getting on the other side of the disorder becomes more comfortable when you can understand why it occurs, how it presents itself, and the various treatment options.

Here, we’ll cover everything we can about post-traumatic stress disorder in the hopes that you can seek treatment and begin recovery.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is what the name suggests — when a person suffers from anxiety and stress after a traumatic event. They can either witness or experience this event (or develop it vicariously, as we mentioned above).

It can affect those from young children to grown adults.

Many people have experienced traumatic events and not developed PTSD. They may go through temporary shock or stress. But for people living with PTSD, they don’t ‘grow out of it’ — instead, the trauma manifests itself and causes them to develop this disorder.

This disorder can be debilitating and life-changing. It can cause panic attacks, negative thoughts, and a host of other signs and symptoms.

Symptoms usually begin to show within three months, although some people can show symptoms even years later. Something can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder later in life. The timeline varies, but symptoms that last longer than a month are usually a sign of it.

It’s not uncommon for someone to experience trauma. In fact, 76% of Canadians have reported experiencing a traumatic event in their lifetimes. The difference, however, is how the body and mind handles itself after the traumatic event.

The odds of developing PTSD depend on many factors, including the individual, their surroundings, and the type of event.

What Causes It?

There are many reasons for this disorder to develop.

Trauma can occur in any number of ways. If someone sees a traumatic event, they can still develop it. The odds of developing it are higher for those who experience the trauma.

Common causes of PTSD include trauma such as the following:

  • Witnessing an accident, abuse, or another disturbing event
  • Experiencing an accident or injury
  • Being a victim of domestic or sexual assault or abuse
  • Being in a car accident
  • Having birth trauma, a complicated surgery, or an adverse medical diagnosis
  • Being bullied
  • Childhood abuse, whether sexual, emotional, or physical
  • Being involved in an industrial accident
  • Being involved in a natural disaster
  • Being a refugee, war veteran, or victim of war trauma
  • Death of a close friend or family member

Some people may have higher odds of developing the disorder than others, which is why not everyone develops it after a traumatic event.

For example, if you witnessed a terrible event as a child but recovered — and then later experienced a shocking incident, such as abuse, you may be more likely to develop PTSD because of your past.

Similarly, if you lack a support system, have a history of other mental disorders, or have a family history of PTSD, you will also be more likely to develop it than others who do not have these.

What Are the Symptoms?

To receive a PTSD diagnosis, someone must display at least two of the symptoms that fall into the following four categories. They must also experience these symptoms consecutively for a month or longer.

Within these four categories, though, the effects of the disorder can manifest in many different ways.

The four areas include:

Intrusions — These are intrusive thoughts that repeat themselves. You may re-experience the event through flashbacks, bad dreams, and the like

Avoidance — In an attempt to forget or move on, someone may practice restraint by staying away from certain people, places, objects, etc., whether consciously or not

Negative Feelings — Negative thoughts or moods may occur, relating to yourself or others, and are usually distorted or amplified. You may feel scared, irritable, and/or detached.

Hyperarousal — This symptom manifests itself in many ways, whether in outbursts, trouble sleeping, always being on guard, or behaving self-destructively

These feelings can occur as listed or in other identifiable ways. People with PTSD have difficulty living a healthy life — in fact, it may even be impossible.

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Symptoms in Children

Children experience similar PTSD symptoms as adults:

  • Always looking for a potential threat
  • Lacking positive emotions
  • Reliving the event, whether through thoughts or through playing
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger or crying
  • Denying the traumatic event ever happened
  • Acting hopeless or withdrawn

As with adults, the sooner these signs are addressed, the sooner the person can be on the road to recovery.

How Do These Symptoms Manifest?

Intrusions, avoidance, negativity, and hyper-arousal are all general signs of PTSD. However, they can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, depending on the person.

Intrusions are thoughts that present themselves without your wishes.

You may have trouble sleeping as they show up as nightmares. If you’re a war veteran and hear a loud noise, you may have flashbacks of your time in the war. You may always feel on edge thinking the traumatic event will happen again.

Avoidance might prevent you from leading a ‘normal’ life. You may stay home instead of going out in an attempt to avoid a person, place, or object that reminds you of the event.

You may even avoid talking about the event, which only allows the trauma to fester even more so.

Negativity can appear in many ways, whether to yourself or others.

You may develop depression or increased stress levels. You may have difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks, feel detached from your life and your friends and family, or lose interest in life altogether.

Hyper-arousal means that your feelings are hyper-sensitive. Instead of getting angry and controlling it, you may suffer from outbursts. You may also feel unusually scared or anxious in tense situations.

In difficult situations, these symptoms may even cause you to consider suicide. If this ever happens, be sure to get help right away — don’t wait. There are many resources for suicide help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers 24/7 assistance for people in distress.

If you’re experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, especially for longer than a month, you’ve likely developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, PTSD doesn’t just go away with time. You’ll need to reach out for professional help.

Let’s look at the treatment options next.

What Are the Treatment Options?

PTSD will not just go away by itself without treatment. If it did, it wouldn’t be classified as PTSD, but as coping from trauma temporarily and then moving on. PTSD is a mental anxiety disorder that requires assistance from an outside source.

Whether you believe it at this moment or not, you can find relief from this disorder. With the right types of treatment or therapy, by themselves or in combination, you can begin to recover from the trauma that’s causing your anxiety.

The main treatment option is therapy, although medication is also an option.

However, there are many different types of therapy. The kind you choose will be up to you and your physician or a trusted medical professional.

These are the standard treatments options.


Therapy aims to do three main things:

  • Improve your symptoms
  • Teach you appropriate coping skills
  • Restore self-esteem and other positive emotions lost due to PTSD

Therapists work to change the thought patterns that are disturbing you.

This is also known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. They will target the place where your fear and anxiety comes from and help you change those negative thought patterns.

These type of treatment lasts as long as you need or want it to last.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

This therapy, known as EMDR, is a way for you to overcome your trauma, perhaps without talking to a therapist about it. EMDR primarily happens in your own head.

While you think about the trauma, you’ll concentrate on the movements of the therapist. This can be a light flashing, a hand movement, a sound. They’ll attempt to alter your brain to think positively when remembering the traumatic event.

This requires weekly sessions and can last up to three months.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

As we’ve discussed, one of the main symptoms of PTSD is avoidance. Exposure therapy makes you confront what you’re avoiding — the ‘exposure’ — and deal with it more healthily.

First, you’ll learn coping mechanisms, such as breathing exercises. This can help to relieve your anxiety while away from a traumatic place or person.

Then, one by one, you’ll begin to confront, or face, what you’ve been avoiding. Using the techniques you’ve learned early on in the therapy, you’ll (hopefully) be able to get through them without experiencing symptoms such as a panic attack.

Later, you may even recount the trauma to your therapist while being recorded and then go home and listen to the recording.

By confronting your demons, you may be able to ease your symptoms, allowing you to exist more peacefully.

Stress Inoculation Therapy

This type of therapy attempts to tackle the stress symptoms you’re feeling and offer healthier alternatives to them.

In this therapy, you may not have to discuss the event in specific detail. Instead, you’re more so learning how to cope with the stress, allowing you some relief.

This can be in the form of breathing exercises or massage therapy. The goal is to relax both your body and mind and erase the negative thoughts. This should provide you with the skills to help you cope with stressors.


Medication may be a positive supplement to therapy.

Since PTSD alters the way your brain processes, medication may help get those neurotransmitters back to ‘normal.’ With this disorder, your brain is in a fight-or-flight mode consistently, causing you to feel extra stress and anxiety. You may even experience other chemical imbalances, such as depression.

Medication attempts to alter brain chemistry and allow you to get some balance. For this type of anxiety, the FDA has approved paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft). Paxil and Zoloft are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, that can treat anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.

It's Time to Get Help

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again because it’s worth repeating: post-traumatic stress disorder will not go away on its own.

This is an anxiety disorder that requires care and consideration. Simply willing it away is not enough to overcome it — although the will to overcome it is a significant first step in getting the assistance you need. Avoiding it will only allow it to fester.

Don’t let PTSD win. We all deserve to live a happy existence, regardless of trauma. Take the reigns of your life into your hands and get yourself the care you deserve.

Well Beings Counselling can get you there.

We help you discover where your strength lies, how you can gain a deeper understanding of your experiences, and learn skills that will help you overcome the challenges that this disorder presents.

Contact us today for a free consultation. Let’s get you on the road to recovery.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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