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By Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe

Chief Executive Officer

Signs of PTSD you need to know

PTSD symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes they may not appear until years after the event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that happens after a scary event, either experiencing it or witnessing it.

Symptoms will include extreme fear and anxiety, getting flashbacks or nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Symptoms may last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning.

It is important to get therapy as soon as possible to reduce symptoms and improve function. If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel like you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Anyone can develop PTSD after experiencing, witnessing or hearing about an event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.

Woman sitting in bedroom alone, suffering from PTSD. Picture: iStock
Woman sitting in bedroom alone, suffering from PTSD. Picture: iStock

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The causes are a mixture of:

  • Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through in your life.
  • A family history of mental health illness.
  • The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time.
  • You may have more PTSD symptoms when you’re stressed or when you come across reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences or see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

Risk factors

Some factors may play a role in making you more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, such as:

  • The severity and intensity of the event.
  • If the traumatic event happens in early childhood.
  • Jobs that involve a lot of trauma exposure like police, army or paramedics.
  • Having other mental health problems or family history such as anxiety or depression.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Having no support structure.
Man feeling sad and all alone. Picture: iStock
Man feeling sad and all alone. Picture: iStock


Symptoms can vary overtime or vary from person to person. PTSD symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes they may not appear until years after the event.

These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Lady with PTSD consulting a therapist. Picture: iStock
Lady with PTSD consulting a therapist. Picture: iStock

Intrusive memories

Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event and starting to relive the traumatic event as if it was happening again.

Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event and getting severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.


Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world and feeling hopeless about the future leading to difficulty maintaining close relationships.

Changes in physical and emotional reactions. Being easily startled or frightened and always being on guard for danger.

Self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse, irritability, anger outbursts or aggressive behaviour.

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After surviving a traumatic event, many people may initially have PTSD-like symptoms such as being unable to stop thinking about what’s happened.

Fear, anxiety, anger, depression and guilt are common reactions to trauma. However, most people who are exposed to trauma do not develop long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.

Getting timely help and support may prevent normal stress reactions from getting worse and developing into PTSD.

This may mean turning to family and friends who will listen and offer comfort. It may mean seeking out a mental health professional for a brief course of therapy. Some people may also find it helpful to turn to their faith community.

Support from others may also help you from turning to unhealthy coping methods such as the misuse of alcohol or drugs.


To diagnose PTSD, your doctor will likely: Perform a physical exam to check for medical problems that may be causing your symptoms.

Do a psychological evaluation that includes a discussion of your signs and symptoms and the event or events that led up to them.


Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help you to regain a sense of control over your life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but can also include medication.

Combining these treatments can go a long way in improving your PTSD symptoms.

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