PTSD: It’s more common than you think

12 February 2024by Oqea Cares

For many PTSD is associated with our war hero’s and veterans who have returned from conflict and war zones. And you wouldn’t be wrong. There is a higher percentage of defence force personnel that suffer from PTSD. Recent research estimates that 17.7% of Australian military veterans are diagnosed with PTSD over the first 4 years following discharge[1]. However, what is underreported is that PTSD is more common within the general population than you may think. In Australia, 4.4% of Australians or over 1 million people experience PTSD, making PTSD the second most common mental health disorder in Australia next to depression[2].

What is PTSD?

According to researcher Hope Christe of the University of Aberdeen[3], PTSD is a mental health illness that can develop following exposure to atraumatic event. Ninety percent of people[4] in their lifetime experience a traumatic event, of which approximately 8 percent develop PTSD[5]. Symptoms of PTSD vary between individuals, but typically include changes in mood, anger, sleep difficulties and feeling unsafe. Individuals also commonly report feeling on edge or having flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event. PTSD often presents as a comorbid condition alongside other disorders such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders. As suggested by the listed symptoms, PTSD is not strictly prohibited to symptoms of the mind, manifesting within the body also with individuals reporting heart palpitations, panic attacks and excessive sweating as troubling side effects, which are not always immediately linked with PTSD.[6]

Why does it happen?

Many of the theories used to explain PTSD are based around cognitive distortions. Horowitz, a pioneer of PTSD research suggested that trauma influences what people believe about “the self, the future, and the world.” The Stress Response Theory, a popular theory used to explain PTSD, suggests someone with PTSD moves between avoidance of intrusive thoughts and experiencing the intrusive thoughts, unable to integrate or make sense of information about the traumatic event because it does not align with their previously held beliefs. In other words, individuals who experience traumatic events which violate an individuals’ belief system (the world is a safe place) contribute to negative beliefs about the world which can manifest itself in to PTSD [7].

The stigma

Researchers suggest the lack of physical symptoms for PTSD can be a source of shame, self-doubt and stigma, which can act as barrier to seeking support. This can be further pronounced by a proud culture of “toughen up and get on with it” like attitudes. But the problem is just that. People experiencing PTSD cannot just “get on with it” and are most often impacted daily by the trauma and pain they continue to relive day in and day out which is largely misunderstood by society.

Health professionals like Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Kyle Hoath see this often:

“PTSD is well known, but the extent of the impact of trauma on our society, and how wide ranging and prevalent it is I don’t think is well enough understood or communicated. Trauma is present in so much of what I see as a psychiatrist, it is sometimes hard to know where PTSD begins and ends. I think we need to appreciate the impact of trauma and work to reduce stigma and build understanding of this complex issue”.

Furthermore, according to pain, stress and trauma researcher David Walton of Western University Canada of the many individuals who develop chronic disorders following a trauma (depression, chronic pain), the severity of physical injuries rarely predicts PTSD. Thus, although others cannot see a person’s obvious pain for those who suffer from PTSD, the hurt mentally is far beyond the extent of what others could imagine.

Is there treatment available?

The good news is there are ways of treating PTSD. Dr Kyle Hoath, a Consultant Psychiatrist encourages a range of different treatments:

“I’ve found psychology or therapy, in particular EMDR (among other trauma therapies), to be the most helpful types of treatment for PTSD. Alongside this, exercise prescribed by an exercise physiologist and lifestyle modifications are also essential. Lastly, medications can be prescribed to manage symptoms of hypervigilance, insomnia, anxiety and depression if the above is not effective on its own.

Of the 4.4%of Australians diagnosed with PTSD each year, around 60% will recover, some even without the benefit of treatment[8]. Many say it takes a community to get a person back on their feet, including not only treating health professionals, but also family and friends.

Dr Hoath says:

“A persons’ support network of health professionals, family and friends is essential in helping to avoid, manage and learn triggers, as a first port of call in a crisis, and to bring into the therapeutic alliance as someone that can assist in managing distress. Therapy from someone who specialises in trauma and exercise, among so many other treatments from specialists, are essential. PTSD cannot be treated by one person. It takes a coordinated care team.”

June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. If you or a family member is having a difficult time please contact Lifeline for immediate support or your GP to access treatment options.

[1] Van Hooff, M, Lawrence-Wood, E, Hodson, S, et al. Mental health prevalence, mental health and wellbeingtransition study. Canberra: The Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’Affairs, 2018.

[2] Recommendationsfrom the Australian PTSD guidelines | Phoenix Australia

[3] Whywe need a better understanding of how PTSD affects families(

[4] Roberts,A. L., Gilman, S. E., Breslau, J., Breslau, N., & Koenen, K. C. (2011).Race/ethnic differences in exposure to traumatic events, development ofpost-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment-seeking for post-traumatic stressdisorder in the United States. Psychological medicine41(1), 71.

[5] Whywe need a better understanding of how PTSD affects families(

[6] Post-traumaticstress disorder (PTSD) (

[7] PTSDas Meaning Violation: Testing a Cognitive Worldview Perspective. | SemanticScholar

[8] [8]