PTSD can develop when someone experiences, sees or learns about an event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence.
It is believed that PTSD is caused by a complex mix of:
- Life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you have experienced since early childhood.
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress.
- Inherited mental health risks such as an increased risk of anxiety or depression and inherited aspects of your personality or temperament.
- Having a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events, such as first responders, corrections and military personnel.
- Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma.
- Feeling horror, helplessness or extreme fear.
- Seeing people get killed or hurt.
- Having experienced other trauma earlier in life, including childhood abuse and or neglect.
- Having other metal health problems such as anxiety or depression.
- Lacking a good support system of family and friends.
- Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home.
- Having biological (blood) relatives with mental health problems including PTSD or depression.
PTSD can increase the risk of other mental health problems such as:
- Depression and anxiety,
- Issues with alcohol and drug use,
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms often start within 1 month of an event or repeated events. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until months or years later. The symptoms can make it hard for the person to live their everyday life and can be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Below are 3 types of symptoms associated with PTSD:
Also called re-experiencing symptoms, these memories can start from the persons own thoughts, or can be triggered by words, object or situations that are reminders of the traumatic event. Intrusive memories include:
- Recurring, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- reliving the event as if it were happening again,
- Upsetting dreams about the event, and
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions (heart racing, hands sweating) to something that reminds you of the event.
Avoidance symptoms may cause a person to change their routine, including avoiding things that remind them of the event as well as negative changes in thinking and moods. This includes:
- Trying to avoid thinking about the event,
- Avoiding places, objects, activities or people that remind you of the event,
- Increased negative feelings about self or others,
- Feeling emotionally numb or inability to experience positive or negative emotions,
- Feeling hopeless about the future,
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past,
- Feeling strong guilt, depression or worry,
- Memory problems including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event,
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships.
These symptoms are changes in emotional reactions usually constant and can make a person feel stressed, angry, overwhelmed and “on guard.” The symptoms include:
- Irritability, feeling tense or “on guard,”
- Difficulty sleeping,
- Angry outbursts or aggressive behaviours,
- Being on constant guard for danger,
- Feelings of overwhelming guilt or shame,
- Self-destructive behaviours,
- Trouble concentrating or sleeping, and
- Being easily startled or frightened.
Learn how to respond to signs and symptoms in a worker.
When to see a Psychologist or Physician
A person should see a Psychologist or Physician if the symptoms last for more than one month and include experiencing at least:
- one intrusive memory symptom
- three avoidance symptoms and
- two hyper-arousal symptoms
Learn how to find a psychologist.
The Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) has additional screening tools available including Anxiety, Depression, Stress, Panic Disorder, Risky Alcohol Use and Social Anxiety Disorder. These tools are anonymous and help to identify symptoms. They are intended to help increase awareness and educate and are not designed to provide a clinical diagnosis.
The results let you compare your responses to previously published responses from the general population or other public safety personnel. Your responses are not recorded and there is no person monitoring the screening tools to provide support. If you need assistance you can anonymously email your results to yourself and take that information to an appropriate healthcare provider such as a psychologist or Physician. To access these screening tools: