Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction that can manifest itself after 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.

Who is affected?

In their lifetime, nearly 90% of Americans report having experienced a traumatic event such as: car accidents; physical or sexual assaults; hold-ups; being taken hostage; work-place accidents; and/or natural disasters, etc. About 9% of people who experience a traumatic event develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This figure is only indicative: the proportion varies greatly according to the type of event and the individual. Women are twice as likely to be affected. In Canada, around 830 000 women and 370 000 currently have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of PTSD

A person who develops post-traumatic stress disorder will display three types of symptoms:

  • Continually reliving the traumatic event by day or by night.
  • Avoidance - conscious or involuntary - of any trauma reminder
  • Hyperarousal in the absence of any imminent risk.

The intensity of post-traumatic stress syndrome varies greatly, as does the duration , lasting anything from several weeks to several years. Around half of those who present symptoms will get over them by themselves within one to two years. Others will develop more chronic problems.

Related disorders

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. Between 30% and 80% of those with post-traumatic stress disorder will also suffer from depression.

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).

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

Mini-Psych School videos

Chronic or episodic depression and burnout? (2011)
Post-traumatic stress disorder 101 (2012)
Hitting bottom - Chronic or episodic depression and burnout? A 2011 lecture by Mimi Israel (in French)
Hitting bottom - Chronic or episodic depression and burnout? A 2011 lecture by Mimi Israel (in French)
Can I go back there? Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder - A 2012 lecture by Camillo Zacchia
Can I go back there? Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder - A 2012 lecture by Camillo Zacchia

Watch other Mini-Psych School lectures.

Treatments of PTSD

Psychotherapy will not make you forget what has happened to you but aims rather to help you to live with your experiences.

All psychotherapies have shown at least some effectiveness. In choosing between them the most important factor is to find one that suits your needs. Therapists often specialize in one of more of the following approaches:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapies
  • Medication (pharmacotherapy)
  • EMDR-Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Group therapy
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Brief psychodynamic therapy

Research at the Douglas

Alain Brunet, PhD, specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder research. Lien profil

What to do?

If you experience symptoms for 6 months or more, it is strongly recommended that you consult a therapist.

  • Do not isolate yourself
  • Beware of excessive consumption or dependency of alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication or drugs
  • Do not avoid talking about the event
  • Try to manage your emotions - such as anger
  • Try to manage your symptoms when possible
  • Find out about what you are experiencing

Need help ?

All requests must first go to the mental health team in your CSSS. You can also contact a crisis centre or choose "Support" from the pull-down menu of the Community ressources.