You might be surprised to hear that most people will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lives. According to Phoenix Australia, the most common traumatic events people in Australia are exposed to are: the unexpected death of someone close to them; witnessing someone badly injured or killed or unexpectedly seeing a deceased body and being in a motor vehicle accident where there is a possibility of death.
There is no doubt that being exposed to a traumatic event has an emotional impact and may leave us not feeling ourselves for a period of time. Whether we develop PTSD after exposure to a trauma is a different story and in fact the vast majority of people will not develop PTSD. While 50-75% of people are exposed to trauma, only 5-10% will go on to develop PTSD (Phoenix Australia).
Research has found that there are particular risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing PTSD following a trauma. The Black Dog Institute identifies the following risk factors:
- Having a prior history of trauma such as childhood trauma and sexual abuse
- The duration of the trauma, with longer duration increasing risk
- A family history of mental health problems
- Prior mental health diagnoses such as anxiety or depression
- A lack of social support from friends, family, colleagues and professionals
Your job may also place you at greater risk, with first responders (ie police, ambulance officers, firefighters) and those in the military more likely to develop PTSD.
Your immediate reaction to the trauma may also place you at greater risk of developing PTSD. A review of the literature concluded that the way in which an individual makes sense of the trauma at the moment of exposure and the emotions they experience (i.e. fear, helplessness, horror, guilt and shame) play a significant role in determining whether they will go on to develop PTSD. In particular, this study found that dissociation during and immediately following the event was a strong predictor of PTSD.
So while most of us won’t develop PTSD following exposure to a traumatic event, it is important to note that some of us will be at greater risk. If you have been exposed to trauma and notice any symptoms of PTSD, it is definitely worth talking to somebody and seeking help.