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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Trauma is a natural emotional reaction to terrible experiences that involve actual or threatened serious harm to oneself or others. However, for some people, the thoughts or memories of these events seriously affect their lives, long after any real danger has passed. This is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the signs & symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder?

PTSD usually appears within three months of the event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear for years. Common symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding reminders of the event, losing emotions and always feeling that something bad is going to happen. Specific symptoms include:

  • re-experiencing the traumatic event over and over
  • having recurring nightmares
  • experiencing unwanted, disturbing memories of the event
  • acting or feeling as if the event is happening again
  • feeling upset when reminded of the event
  • staying away from activities, places or people that are reminders of the traumatic experience
  • avoiding friends and family.
  • losing interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • experiencing difficulty having loving feelings
  • being unable to feel pleasure
  • constantly worrying
  • having a hard time concentrating
  • getting angry easily
  • having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • fearing harm from others
  • experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
  • having fears of dying.

How does PTSD affect relationships?

Symptoms of PTSD can make it hard to get along with people. This can lead to problems with family, friends and co-workers. When a person constantly worries or feels guilty, has poor sleep patterns, uses alcohol or other drugs or feels emotionally numb, these issues can strain relationships. It’s hard to be with a person who seems to get angry for no reason or who often gets into bad moods. It’s also hard to be with a person who will not go out or take part in social events.

What are the causes & risk factors of posttraumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is a response to traumatic life events, for example, car crashes, fires, bombings, rape, torture, or seeing a family member, friend or other person harmed or killed. Being involved in a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, flood or earthquake, can also lead to PTSD.

Some people experience traumatic events and do not develop PTSD. Many factors play a part in whether a person will develop the disorder. Risk factors make a person more likely to get PTSD, whereas resilience factors reduce the likelihood of developing the disorder.

Risk factors for PTSD include:

  • having experienced dangerous events and trauma in the past
  • having a history of mental illness or PTSD
  • feeling horror, helplessness or extreme fear
  • having little or no social support after the traumatic event
  • feeling guilt, shame or responsibility for the event or its outcome
  • experiencing other stressors after the event, e.g., loss of a loved one, pain and injury, loss of a job or home.

Resilience factors that may reduce the risk of developing PTSD include:

  • seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
  • participating in a support group after a traumatic event
  • feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
  • having a coping strategy or a way of getting through the traumatic event, and learning from it
  • being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.

What is the treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder?

People can recover from PTSD. Some recover in six months, while others take much longer. Everyone’s experience is different. The same event may be more traumatic for some people than for others.

Most skilled therapists are trained in several types of treatment, which they may use alone or in combination. All treatment approaches should follow the stages of the trauma therapy model. Good therapists adapt the different treatment approaches to best suit each client.

Here is a brief description of the main therapeutic approaches:

Counselling and t​herapy

Trauma counselling or therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group, and can be very helpful for people with PTSD. Family counselling and individual treatment can help with relationship troubles.


Psychiatrists and family doctors can prescribe medication for depression, nervousness and sleep problems, which are common in people with PTSD. Medication works best when a person is also in counselling.

Where can I find help, treatment and support for posttraumatic stress disorder?

Treatment from CAMH 

Help for Families from CAMH

Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)​​

Various supports are available for people with PTSD, including:

  • family service agencies
  • community mental health agencies
  • counsellors or therapists
  • family doctors
  • community health centres
  • religious leaders
  • settlement agencies
  • workplace employee assistance programs (EAPs).

Another good resource is the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture.

Call 416 363-1066, or visit www.ccvt.org for services and referrals available to refugees and immigrants.

Where can I find more information and resources from CAMH related to posttraumatic stress disorder?

Information on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for Refugees and New Immigrants (PDF)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 101 (online tutorial) Please Note: Your pop-up blocker must be turned off to view this tutorial​​

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