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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

You’re driving down the highway, the road is wet and cars keep racing past you, splashing water on to your windshield. Suddenly you lose control of the car and feel the car plummeting down an embankment. You hear glass breaking, metal screeching and feel searing pain all over your body. You open your eyes and realize that you’re sitting in your cubicle at work on a sunny Tuesday. You’ve just relived the car accident you were in two months ago for the hundredth time since it happened.

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People are strong, but this kind of trauma can be overwhelming. After a traumatic event like a car accident or crime, some people continue to relive the experience through flashbacks and other challenges. It can impact their lives in a big way. This is called post-traumatic distress disorder, and it’s a form of mental illness.

What is it?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (sometimes just called ‘PTSD’) is a type of anxiety disorder that can appear after a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include:

Natural disasters, such as



Major accidents

Being a witness to any of the above

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually appear about three months after the event but can show up even years later. Sometimes a life event such as the death of someone you know, another traumatic event, or the birth of a baby can trigger the onset of PTSD well after the original trauma occurred. Often depression, drug or alcohol use problems can show up along with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Who does it affect?

While many people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives, only 8% people will experience post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime. There are some groups that are at higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder than others:


Could I have post-traumatic stress disorder?

It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, shocked and overwhelmed immediately after a traumatic event. It’s also normal to feel different things or not much of anything at all—people respond differently to different situations. Most people who experience trauma won’t develop post-traumatic stress disorder. But if you feel as though you’ve lost control of your life, that the memory of the event is controlling you, or have several of the following symptoms for more than a month, you should talk to your doctor.


Why do some people develop PTSD and others don’t, even after the same traumatic event?

Human beings are incredibly resilient. They can bounce back and recover from stresses well. But sometimes our unique makeups can make an event overwhelming. Of all the people who will experience a traumatic event, only about 15% will have a lasting and harmful impact after it. Not all of these responses would be post-traumatic stress disorder. Why some people develop the disorder and others don’t is complex and has to do with many factors that are as unique and difficult to figure out as people are. Factors may include how we’ve faced other challenging or dangerous events in the past, our lifetime of learning how to react to these kinds of events, and our emotional styles.

What can I do about it?

There are many different treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder including:

Eventually, with treatment, most people are able to feel comfortable in their own skin again and move on to the point where they can remember the traumatic event without reliving it.


Where do I go from here?

If you think you or someone you care about has post-traumatic stress disorder the best thing to do is talk to your doctor. Together you can decide which of the above treatments, if any, would be best for you. In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more PTSD information.

Other helfpul resources, available in English only, are:

Visit or call 604-525-7566 for information and community resources on anxiety.

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for info sheets and personal stories about (illness). You’ll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.

Resources available in many languages:
*For each service on the right, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

If your trauma is a result of crimes like rape or relationship violence, assault or burglary, call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free in BC and Yukon) 24 hours a day. Learn more at

HealthLink BC
Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call310-6789(do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2013

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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