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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop in response to single or repeated exposure to traumatic events.

A number of events have the potential to cause PTSD, including: threat of death; serious injury; viewing or handling human remains; seeing someone badly injured or killed; interpersonal violence such as being mugged or sexually assaulted; being unable to respond to a threatening situation; and witnessing human suffering on a large scale.

It is normal to experience some form of distress after traumatic events. Some people may recover without professional assistance and get back to their normal lives with the support of family and friends. For others, the distressing symptoms do not subside and can intensify to the point that normal functioning at work and in their private lives is severely affected. Generally, these people will need specialised professional assistance to recover their normal functioning, but most will eventually go on to lead normal, productive and satisfying lives. PTSD is a treatable condition.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of PTSD include:
  • repeated intrusive, distressing memories or dreams,
  • poor sleep patterns,
  • avoidance of reminders associated with the trauma,
  • negative mood and thoughts following the event,
  • agitation and negative changes in behaviour.
Symptoms may develop immediately following exposure, though it is also common for people to have a gradual increase in the range and intensity of symptoms. The onset of PTSD can sometimes be sudden and dramatic - presenting as a 'breakdown' occurring sometime after exposure.

It is important to remember that while not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, other mental health conditions may develop, including depression.

What do we know about PTSD in the ADF?

All Australians, including ADF members, have the potential to be exposed to traumas that may contribute to the development of PTSD. However the rates of both military and non-military related traumas are higher in the ADF than in the Australian community. From the findings of the 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study, it has been estimated that 90% of ADF members have experienced at least one potentially traumatic event at some time in their life, compared to 73% of an age and employment matched sample of the Australian community.

It is estimated that approximately 8.3% of ADF members will have experienced PTSD in the last 12 months, which is significantly higher than in the Australian community (5.2%). In particular, ADF males report a greater rate of PTSD compared with the general community (8.1% versus 4.6%).

Studies also indicate that ADF members who have never deployed experience PTSD at the same rate as those who have deployed, and that length of deployment is not a useful marker of risk for PTSD. However, the number and type of traumas as well as roles on deployment, such as combat or explosive ordinance roles, may assist to identify those most at risk. Those who experience multiple traumas across their lifetime, including on deployment, are at greater risk of PTSD.

Can individuals be redeployed if they've been diagnosed with PTSD?

A diagnosis of PTSD does not automatically preclude a member from deploying provided they have been effectively treated and have been free of symptoms for a specified period of time. Defence conducts an assessment of the risks associated with particular operations and some operations may not be suitable for a member experiencing specific health conditions. Assessment of suitability for future deployments is carried out on an individual basis.

What treatment is available?

Treatment for PTSD is provided by ADF Mental Health professionals and specialists, external providers, and through referral to PTSD treatment programs accredited with the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) and conducted at private hospitals around Australia. Treatments typically consist of a combination of medication and therapeutic interaction or treatment between an experienced professional and the member, family, couple, or group.

Where can I get help?

Your chain of command is a primary resource that can provide advice, referral and support. Other than in an emergency, you can also contact your local ADF Health Centre, Mental Health Professional, Chaplain, or the Duty Officer/Officer of the Day for immediate assistance and referrals. In an emergency situation call 000.

Contact details for accessing services and support can be found on the Health and Rehabilitation Services page and the Need Help Now? page.

Further Information

Further information on managing traumatic stress can be found at the following links:

15 January, 2015