People respond to traumatic events in many different ways and there is no single “normal” reaction to a traumatic event. Some people will not be distressed at all, others will be very distressed initially and recover quickly, others will be very distressed initially and remain very distressed, and others will not be distressed initially and then become more distressed as time progresses. Other people’s distress will fluctuate over time.
It is very important to remember that most people do not go on to develop a mental health condition after a traumatic event, but a minority will do. PTSD and complex PTSD (CPTSD) are not the only mental health conditions that occur following traumatic events. Other common conditions include generalised anxiety, depression, phobias, and substance use disorders.
PTSD and CPTSD can develop after individuals have been exposed to a single traumatic event such as a serious accident, or from prolonged exposure to trauma such as child abuse. CPTSD is commoner after prolonged exposure or multiple events.
The symptoms of PTSD are re-experiencing (nightmares and flashbacks), avoidance (of thoughts and reminders) and increased arousal (being very cautious and jumpy). In addition to the symptoms of PTSD, people with CPTSD experience difficulties controlling their emotions, feel negatively about themselves and have difficulties in relationships with other people.
Both PTSD and CPTSD commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as those listed above.
Up to 3% of adults have PTSD at any one time. This rate more than doubles in populations exposed to major traumatic events, with some traumas being more associated with PTSD than others. For example, more than 50% of survivors of rape have suffered with PTSD as a result of their traumatic experience. CPTSD is slightly more common than PTSD.