Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – or PTSD – is a mental health condition that can develop after a person has been exposed to a traumatic event1.

Over 10% of Australians have experienced PTSD at some time in their life2.

To help raise awareness about the condition and the available treatments, we asked Dr Angela Maguire, Clinical Psychologist and Principal Research Fellow at GMR, to answer some questions about PTSD.


What causes PTSD?

PTSD can develop after exposure to a traumatic event that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence1. The exposure can include:

  • directly experiencing the trauma yourself;
  • seeing in-person the trauma happening to someone else;
  • finding out the trauma happened to a close family member or friend; or
  • repeated or extreme contact with the distressing details of the trauma (such as a job where you are exposed to graphic accounts of abuse)1.


What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Not all people with PTSD will have the same set of symptoms, but their symptoms will fall into the following four groups:


  1. Distressing trauma-related memories, dreams, or flashbacks; physical reactions or obvious emotional distress when reminded of the trauma.
  2. Avoiding trauma-related memories, thoughts, and feelings; avoiding people, places, situations, activities and objects that are reminders of the trauma.
  3. Holding negative beliefs about oneself, other people and the world; distorted thinking about the causes or consequences of the trauma; self-blame and blaming others; feeling detached from other people; long-lasting negative emotions (such as fear, horror, anger, guilt and shame); inability to feel positive emotions (such as happiness, satisfaction and love); losing interest in important activities.
  4. Disturbed sleep and concentration; reckless or self-destructive behaviours; being extremely on guard and easily startled; irritable behaviour and verbal or physical aggression with little or no provocation1.


How is PTSD diagnosed?

PTSD is diagnosed when all four groups of symptoms are present for more than a month. The symptoms need to cause major problems in daily functioning, and must not be due to a substance (such as medication or alcohol) or due to a medical condition (such as a head injury).


A psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose PTSD.


How common is PTSD and who can be affected?

According to the 2020-21 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, an estimated 5.7% of Australians had experienced PTSD in the past year. PTSD was found to be almost twice as common in women as in men2.


PTSD can occur at any age after the first year of life1. Rates of PTSD are higher in certain populations, which may reflect higher rates of trauma exposure3. Women are more likely to have experienced sexual assault and abuse, and men are more likely to have experienced military combat and violence in the community.


What are the risks of PTSD?

PTSD is associated with higher rates of unhealthy behaviours (such as physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking, alcohol abuse) and social issues (such divorce and unemployment)3-5.


PTSD can also put a person at risk for developing other mental health conditions (such as anxiety, depression and substance use disorders), and other physical health conditions (such as liver, heart, and lung disease; chronic pain and sleep disorders4,5.


What treatments are available for PTSD?

If PTSD is left untreated, it can become a long-lasting or persistent condition. But, according to Dr Maguire, the chances of recovery are good with evidence-based psychological treatment.


“There are several effective therapies available including both trauma-focused options, such as prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy; and non-trauma focused options, such as stress-inoculation training and present-centred therapy,” says Dr Maguire.


“There is also evidence suggesting that mindfulness-based and compassion-focused therapies can produce important improvements in PTSD symptoms”6


Factors that protect against the development of PTSD include the availability of social support before and after exposure to trauma.


How to seek support for PTSD

If you need support, or you feel like you need to speak to someone about your mental health, contact your GP or reach out to:


Open Arms

Provides counselling and mental health services for current and ex-serving ADF members and their families.

PH: 1800 011 046 (24/7 support line) or visit



Provides psychological services, physical rehabilitation, wellness services, and social connection activities for ex-serving ADF members and their families.



Beyond Blue

Provides extensive mental health resources and support.

PH: 1300 224 636 or visit


Our recent research on PTSD

Veterans with PTSD more likely to have upper GI tests, but they’re not always necessary

Compassionate Mind Training may have a positive impact on veterans with PTSD

Study links chronic PTSD with changes in brain structure




  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020-21). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. ABS.
  3. Kearney, D. J., & Simpson, T. L. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Trauma and Its Consequences. American Psychological Association.
  4. Kendall-Tackett, K. (2012). The long-term health effects of child sexual abuse. In P. Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of child sexual abuse: Identification, assessment, and treatment (pp. 49-67). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  5. McLeay, S., Harvey, W. M., Romaniuk, M. N. M., Crawford, D. H. G., Colquhoun, D. M., Young, R. McD., Dwyer, M., Gibson, J. M., O’Sullivan, R. A., Cooksley, G., Strakosch, C. R., Thomson, R. M., Voisey, J., & Lawford, B. R. (2017). Physical comorbidities of post-traumatic stress disorder in Australian Vietnam War veterans. Medical Journal of Australia, 206(6), 251-257.

  6. Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., & Steindl, S. R. (2017). A meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 48(6), 778-792.