Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.

PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II. But PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age.

PTSD is, traditionally, thought to occur among soldiers who have experienced disturbing events in war. PTSD can occur in civilians after other life events. Some of these life events are not universally traumatic but can be challenging (in other words, different people can experience the same terrifying event but only one or two will develop PTSD). PTSD can develop a few weeks, months or even years after a disturbing event.

Events that could lead to PTSD

Childbirth: Labour and childbirth can be very traumatising. This is often the case if a mother develops complications or if she delivers a child with health problems. A woman can also develop PTSD if healthcare workers treat her inappropriately during childbirth.

Road traffic accidents: Accidents in which one nearly loses their lives or where one gets severely injured or disabled can lead to development of PTSD. It can also develop if one is involved in an accident where others lose their lives.

Robbery/Mugging: Violent robbery tends to leave one feeling violated and vulnerable. It has also been known to lead to PTSD.

Sexual assault: Rape and defilement often has a lifelong effect on the victim. In most cases, one is not able to completely put the event out of one’s mind. It is one of the most common causes of PTSD.

Child abuse: Most children are not able to voice their complaints if they are being abused. However, it is not unusual for them to develop long-term effects of this abuse.

Witnessing violent deaths: This is a common cause of PTSD among soldiers deployed for military combat. Most cannot get the violent scenes of the battlefield out of their minds (even years after they leave the military).

Unexpected loss of a loved one: The death of a loved one is very traumatising — especially if it was violent. It can be disturbing if you witness their demise.

Terrorist attacks: Events involving terrorism and being held hostage could lead to lifelong trauma. Ideally, anyone involved in a terrorist attack should undergo counselling to help deal with the emotions and long term mental effects of this situation.

Natural disasters: Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes etc are all terrifying events that can lead to long-term mental anguish.