What is PTSD? We Explain Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

boy experiences a PTSD flashback and can't move

What is PTSD and is it a disability? What do PTSD symptoms look like; for example, do they involve flashbacks and if so why? When you broach the topic of PTSD it brings up lots of questions, perhaps because it’s widely experienced but not as widely understood.

In this article Blue Badge looks at the meaning, causes, symptoms and treatments of PTSD to uncover and share why it happens and when.

Here’s what we’ve included.

man with PTSD symptoms can't go out

What is the meaning of PTSD?

PTSD is an acronym that stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

We say post to mean after. So simply put, post traumatic means after a traumatic event has happened. While the cause of PTSD is trauma, the outcome that results is stress.

But this isn’t normal once-off stress. Rather, PTSD symptoms are chronic and varied. That’s why the stress and anxiety symptoms are referred to as a stress disorder.

Trauma comes from the Greek word traûma, which means wound. In the case of post traumatic stress disorder we’re referring to a psychological or mental wound rather than a physical one.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a natural psychological response to trauma.

Once a person experiences something like being seriously hurt, bullied, abused or placed in danger for example, the psychological effect can be overwhelming and difficult to process. The same can apply to being witness to terrible things happening to someone else – this can also result in trauma.

Until the trauma is processed the person essentially continues experiencing the trauma, even if they’re aware the danger no longer exists. That’s because they’re still busy processing it and therefore to a degree also busy experiencing it.

However, this doesn’t always mean they can remember the actual traumatic event. Rather it’s often sights, sounds or smells that took place during or around the trauma that they remember and relive but not the trauma itself.

a woman experiencing a frightening PTSD flashback

What are PTSD flashbacks?

Trauma can be utterly terrifying and make a person feel completely helpless and overwhelmed. A traumatic event like fighting in a war or being assaulted can be so awful that not only is it a lot to process but the mind sometimes blocks it out completely.

However, even if a person blanks out a traumatic event the mind and body will still experience and even relive the fear these events cause. These are PTSD flashbacks and although they can be terrifying they’re clues to help a person remember and work through their fears.

How dreams are involved

Interestingly, dreaming is a healthy way of processing emotions and stressful situations. The word for dream in German is traum, which can also be used to mean daydream or vision, kind of like a traumatic flashback.

Often a person experiencing PTSD flashbacks will appear to be daydreaming. What they’re actually doing is working through and processing the psychological pain of trauma.

A women experiences PTSD symptoms

Mental health conditions that cause flashbacks

Flashbacks are associated with mental health conditions like PTSD, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and depression.

A PTSD flashback can happen without warning and completely wipe out all your energy. You can go from feeling joy to terror simply by seeing an image, hearing a sound or smelling something that reminds you of the original traumatic event.

If you’re a police officer with PTSD simply smelling a candle or match could evoke the trauma of a shootout. If, for example, you were assaulted in a bathroom, then going to the bathroom can become terrifying.

PTSD flashbacks can make it difficult to feel safe to leave the house and do ordinary things like socialising or even shopping. Even at home you can feel so drained that it’s not possible to get things like bathing and dressing done.

What is a flashback vs memory?

Unlike memories, flashbacks appear beyond our control.

But it’s not just trauma that needs working through. At the end of every day (and during the course of the day too) we often think on things that have happened. These could be seemingly insignificant events like tea time or something like a visit with a friend or family member.

However straightforward these memories appear, they too require time to revisit and process.

Keeping that in mind, just imagine how much greater the effort required to process the psychological tangle and pain of trauma can be. It may be a psychological wound, however the effects that it causes often are physical too.

military men debrief with a psychiatrist who explains what PTSD is to help them cope

PTSD symptoms

Living with PTSD can cause a person to zone out, become forgetful and at times place blame where it’s not due, amongst a range of other symptoms to cope. The range and severity of symptoms a person experiences can be distracting but they can sometimes also be debilitating.

Some examples of PTSD symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Insomnia
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) and clenching
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Severe anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociation
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Brain fog

The list of PTSD symptoms changes from one person to the next and can also change for each person from one moment to another. The types of ways in which people can be traumatised are varied as are the ways our minds revisit these traumas in an attempt to process them.

Is PTSD a disability?

With the amount of psychological effort that’s required to manage the trauma, ordinary daily living can become difficult or even untenable. Persistent and debilitating PTSD symptoms are a mental health condition that can be clinically evaluated as a psychosocial disability.

Because PTSD is a mental wound often its effects are invisible to bystanders. Similarly, diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis are considered to be invisible disabilities, along with many other not-usually-visible disabilities like cancer.

Read more about invisible disabilities here:

A psychiatric dog helps their owner cope during flashbacks

PTSD treatment

One of the simplest but very effective solutions is working with a Psychiatric Assistance Dog. This type of service dog is specifically trained in supporting PTSD. Read more on how Assistance Dogs help people with various types of disability like PTSD. You might also want to find out about Assistance Dog training for this purpose.

Other treatment methods include psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry. While both a psychologist and psychiatrist help you work towards healthy mental processes a psychiatrist is also qualified to prescribe medication.

Further, if you live with PTSD that’s been diagnosed as a psychosocial disability you may be eligible for NDIS support.

Who can experience trauma?

Anybody can experience trauma but certain lines of work make a person more likely to. Working in the army, being a firefighter or carrying out police work are just some examples. People with jobs in these fields are often faced with dangers that could cause physical injury and psychological wounds.

Yes, the trauma from a single dangerous event can take years to unlearn.

According to a Mental Health and Wellbeing Study, police and emergency service workers are twice as likely to experience psychological distress than those in other professions.

The study found that people who work in these professions for 10 or more years are six times likelier to experience PTSD symptoms.

A patient talks to their psychiatrist

Living with disability that affects mobility

While physical disabilities often affect mobility an invisible disability can too. If you live with a disability (invisible or otherwise) and hold a disability parking permit you can get up to 25% off disability car insurance.

Or if you have an Assistance Dog – whether for PTSD or another reason – you could get 25% off Assistance Dogs insurance. If you have a therapy animal or pet your DPP can also get you 15% discounted pet insurance with Blue Badge.

Click below to get a quote on your discounted mobility insurance.

Pick any layout option below:

What would you like a quote for?