The situations we find traumatic can vary from person to person. There are many different harmful or life-threatening events that might cause someone to develop PTSD. For example:
- being involved in a car crash
- being violently attacked
- being raped or sexually assaulted
- seeing other people hurt or killed (including in the course of your job)
- being abused, harassed or bullied
- being kidnapped or held hostage
- traumatic childbirth, either as a mother or a partner witnessing a traumatic birth
- extreme violence or war, including military combat
- surviving a terrorist attack
- surviving a natural disaster, such as flooding or an earthquake
- being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition
- losing someone close to you in particularly upsetting circumstances
- any event in which you fear for your life.
I was mugged and then about a year later I was on the Tube when the police were trying to arrest someone who had a gun. In neither experience was I physically injured – although in the second one I thought I was going to die and that I was going to see lots of other people die.
If you experienced trauma at an early age or you have experienced long-lasting or multiple traumas, you might be given a diagnosis of complex PTSD. (See our page on complex PTSD for more information.)
Are some people more at risk of PTSD?
Some factors may make you more vulnerable to developing PTSD, or may make the problems you experience more severe, including:
- experiencing repeated trauma
- getting physically hurt or feeling pain
- having little or no support from friends, family or professionals
- dealing with extra stress at the same time, such as bereavement or money worries
- previously experiencing anxiety or depression.
I was diagnosed by my GP with PTSD a few weeks after the death of my father who died very suddenly, following a family outing to the local pub for lunch. He collapsed in front of us and we had to administer CPR at the scene while waiting for the ambulance. He died later on the way to hospital.
Anyone can experience traumatic events, but you may be particularly likely to have experienced trauma if you:
- work in a high-risk occupation, such as the emergency services or armed forces
- are a refugee or asylum seeker
- were taken into foster care.
(See our pages on how to manage stress, bereavement, abuse, money and mental health, anxiety and panic attacks and depression for more information on these topics. If you work in the emergency services, our Blue Light Programme is here to support you.)
This information was published in October 2017. We will revise it in 2020.