Post-Traumatic stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological and physical condition that is caused by very frightening or distressing events. It occurs in up to 30% of people who experience traumatic events.

Traumatic events

PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as:

  • military combat,
  • serious road accidents,
  • terrorist attacks,
  • natural or man-made disasters,
  • being held hostage,
  • violent deaths, and
  • violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery.

PTSD may also occur in any other situation where a person feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness. However, it does not usually develop after situations that are upsetting, such as divorces, job losses or failing exams.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks. They may also have problems concentrating and sleeping, and feel isolated and detached. These symptoms are often persistent and severe enough to have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life.

PTSD is a mental health condition

PTSD first came to prominence during the First World War after soldiers suffered harrowing experiences in the trenches. Their condition became known as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. It has not been until fairly recently that it has been accepted that traumatic events outside of war situations have similar effects.

The term ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ was first used after the Vietnam War. In 1980, PTSD officially became recognised as a mental health condition when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

How common is PTSD?

PTSD affects up to 30% of people who experience a traumatic event. It affects around 5% of men and 10% of women at some point during their life, and can occur at any age, including during childhood.

Approximately 40% of people with PTSD develop the condition after someone close to them suddenly dies.


PTSD can be successfully treated even when it occurs many years after the traumatic event. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, and how soon they develop after the traumatic event, a number of different treatment strategies may be recommended. These include:

  • watchful waiting: waiting to see if the symptoms improve or get worse without treatment,
  • psychological treatment, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EDMR), and
  • medication, such as paroxetine or mirtazapine.

See Treatment for more information about the recommended treatments for PTSD.

If you have PTSD, it may affect your ability to drive safely. You must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if you have, or have previously had, a health condition that is likely to affect your ability to drive. See the DVLA website for more information.


Information from NHS Choices

Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health Foundation
The Royal College Of Psychiatrists