This information (slightly modified) comes from website

1.  What is a traumatic event?

An event is considered traumatic if the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The person's response must have also involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

2.  What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

CPA has a fact sheet about PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction that can manifest itself after a traumatic event and which has been present for at least one month.
A person who develops post-traumatic stress disorder will display three types of symptoms:

  1. Continually reliving the traumatic event during the day or at night.
  2. Avoidance - conscious or involuntary - of any trauma reminder.
  3. Hyperarousal in the absence of any imminent risk.

3.  Is it common to have a traumatic experience?

Nearly 90% of Americans report having experienced a traumatic event during their lifetime. Events that are reported include, but are not limited to car accidents; physical or sexual assaults; hold-ups; being taken hostage; work-place accidents; and/or natural disasters, etc. (Breslau et al., 1998). Reported rates are generally lower in other western countries for unknown reasons.

4.  Is it common to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing a traumatic event?

It is estimated that about 9% of people who experience a traumatic event develop post-traumatic stress disorder (Breslau et al., 1998). The proportion varies greatly according to the type of event and the individual. Women are twice as likely to be affected (Creamer Burgess, McFarlane, 2001; Kessler et al., 1999; Breslau et al., 1991). In Canada, it is estimated that around 872 979 Canadians currently have post-traumatic stress disorder (Van Ameringen et al., 2008).

5.  How long do the symptoms last?

The intensity of post-traumatic stress disorder varies greatly, as does the duration , lasting anywhere from several weeks to several years. Around half of those who present with symptoms will get over them on their own within one to two years. Others will develop more chronic problems.

If you experience symptoms for 6 months or more, it is strongly recommended that you consult a therapist (see Where to Get Help?). You can also seek help earlier than this if you think it might be appropriate. Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined by the presence of symptoms that exceed one month. If the symptoms persist beyond three months, it is then a classified as chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. People may also have delayed reactions and symptoms may not present themselves for 6 months or longer.

6.  What other problems can people develop after a traumatic experience?

Major depression is a common problem following exposure to trauma. It is characterized by a consistently depressed mood and a loss of interest in daily activities, among other symptoms. This differs from the typical ‘’blues’’ that everyone experiences. It is estimate that between 30% and 80% of those with post-traumatic stress disorder will also suffer from depression (Ducrocq et al., 2004). Other disorders that may occur include: other anxiety disorders; sexual disorders; health problems (e.g. fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc.); or substance abuse problems (alcohol, street drugs and prescription drugs) (Daligand, 2001).

7.  Is it possible to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress a long time after the event?

Someone who has experienced a traumatic event can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder several months, or even years later. The development of new symptoms may be triggered by a subsequent event (e.g. anniversary of the event, life transitions such as birth of a child or retirement, etc.).

8.  What is resilience?

Resilience is not only the absence of post-traumatic stress after a traumatic experience, but also an individual’s ability to take something positive from adversity (Cyrulnik, 2003). An individual may display resilience to one traumatic event, while developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress to another (Damiani & Vaillant, 2003).

This information comes from:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (4th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.

NCPTSD website (National Center for PTSD)

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