Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 


PTSD: Lisa's story

Lisa French was on the London bus that was attacked in the July 7 bombings. Two years later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Watch Lisa's story.

Media last reviewed: 24/04/2013

Next review due: 24/04/2015

History of PTSD

Cases of PTSD were first documented during the First World War when soldiers developed shell shock as a result of the harrowing conditions in the trenches.

But the condition wasn't officially recognised as a mental health condition until 1980, when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

The type of events that can cause PTSD include:

  • serious road accidents
  • violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
  • prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
  • witnessing violent deaths
  • military combat
  • being held hostage
  • terrorist attacks
  • natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis

PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can occur weeks, months or even years later.

PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't.

Read more about the causes of PTSD.

Signs and symptoms

Someone with PTSD will often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.

These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.

Read more about the symptoms of PTSD.

When to seek medical advice

It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but in most people these will improve naturally over a few weeks.

You should visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems about four weeks after the traumatic experience, or if the symptoms are particularly troublesome.

If necessary, your GP can refer you to mental health specialists for further assessment and treatment.

How PTSD is treated

PTSD can be successfully treated, even when it develops many years after a traumatic event.

Any treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and how soon they occur after the traumatic event. Any of the following treatment options may be recommended:

  • watchful waiting - waiting to see whether the symptoms improve without treatment
  • psychological treatment - such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • antidepressant medication - such as paroxetine or mirtazapine

Read more about treating PTSD.

Page last reviewed: 24/09/2013

Next review due: 24/09/2015


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 199 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

janih said on 12 November 2014

i do feel doctors and mental health don't give good assessments ,I am still waiting for my 20 year old son to be assessed properly he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety . I don't feel after 4 years ,my son has been assessed proper and was given anti-depressants ...cut a long story short I think he has PTSD with other son has had bad events in the pass.because of this .he does not go out the house ,does not like crowds ,his health is not good due to isolating himself in his room,lost friends because of it ,he had nightmares in the past ,has self harmed and taken a overdose where is the proper help ..very hard to get my son even to he don't want to go out ..I am struggling to find the right help for him

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

miniftw said on 19 June 2014

lol they cant seriously be calling 'wait and see' a possible treatment option! so far the NHS has been appalling in handling my partners ptsd. he went to the docs the other day and despite him advising that he does not want to take medication (i.e anti depressents) as he has had issues with drugs she prescribed him anti depressants anyway also they have not officially diagnosed ptsd but i am 100% sure that is what he has due to some very serious events from his childhood and adolescence and reading a great deal about ptsd i know the symptoms to be identical in his case. its like they dont want to take the time to diagnose and refer him just wait for the worst to happen it is making our lives that much more difficult as we are both struggling to get the help for him.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

cathg77 said on 19 May 2014

and trying to get any GP to give you any diagnosis other than just general anxiety or depression is a nightmare and another fight in which people who suffer cannot sometimes find the strength to do

mental health services in this country is appalling

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

singinkeith said on 04 May 2014

21years ago a doctor told me i had ptsd no treatment or help ,its still here , i know i'm not a full shilling anymore ,don't have a clue what to do or if i should try ,

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

weered said on 22 August 2012

HI beenthroughhell can you post the name of the charity you are involved with please

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

beenthroughhell said on 10 May 2012

The NHS were absolutely pathetic in treating my PTSD, I was given pills that did nothing but make me worse for 2 1/2 years, then they offered CBT, and on the first session with the so called therapist she started crying!
Please have a look in the many forums on the internet, you will see that I am not alone in my opinion of the NHS. I am now involved with the charity that helped me. Take care, and I hope that you find the correct help that you need.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Find mental health support

Anxious, depressed or having problems coping? Find out how to get help

Military medicine

A special in-depth report on British military medicine, from first aid on the battlefield to cutting-edge rehabilitation programmes