Unlike the majority of mental health conditions, there is actually a clear cause of trauma-related conditions, including Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Because these conditions are characterised by a traumatised reaction to being involved in or seeing a distressing or frightening event, the cause is clear.

What isn’t clear however, is why some people develop mental health conditions after traumatic events, and others don’t.

Experiencing or witnessing Traumatic events cause these conditions

What is PTSD & Trauma?

PTSD & Trauma-based conditions: PTSD and Trauma-based conditions refer to the various conditions that involve traumatic events or memories. They develop due to being involved in or seeing a distressing or frightening event. Whilst Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the best-known condition in this area, other conditions exist too. These conditions can have a marked impact on an individual’s life. But with the right treatment, recovery is possible.

What are some examples of traumatic events?

As mentioned, PTSD & Trauma-based conditions are caused by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.

However, it can be difficult to define what exactly a “traumatic” event is. Some examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Witnessing warfare
  • Military combat
  • Being the victim of an assault
  • Road accidents
  • Rape or other sexual abuse
  • Witnessing an act of extreme violence
  • Terrorist attack or hostage situation
  • Natural disaster such as a Tsunami
  • Sudden death of a friend or family member
  • Severe injury

Another condition in this category is Adjustment Disorder – which is better associated with an upsetting event, rather than a traumatic event. Possible events like this include:

  • Losing a job
  • End of relationship
  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Family conflict

The difference between traumatic and upsetting events

It should be noted there is a difference between a traumatic event and an upsetting event.

An upsetting event like a job loss, relationship break up or being unable to pass the interview stage of a job application process – are not the same as a traumatic event.

Sadness and low mood as a reaction of an upsetting event may develop into Depression or an Adjustment Disorder, but it is rare for it to become PTSD.

Why do some people develop conditions and others don’t?

Around 1 in 3 people will go on to develop PTSD after a traumatic event [1]. It isn’t known why some people develop PTSD after a traumatic event, while others don’t.

Certain risk factors appear to be involved, such as assault-based trauma, or a past mental health condition being diagnosed. A parent with a diagnosed mental illness too can increase the likelihood of PTSD developing in someone who experiences a traumatic event.

Many people who have been the victim of an ongoing traumatic event will develop Complex PTSD.

It may be to do with two regions of the brain, namely the amygdala and hippocampus. Research shows that these have their normal system disrupted after a traumatic event [2].


As seen in this article, there are many possible traumatic events that can lead to PTSD and trauma conditions arising.

Any of these symptoms is enough to cause concern. It makes accessing sufficient treatment crucial – as this can aid the recovery process.

See Also

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[1]     NHS. (2022). Overview – Post-traumatic stress disorder. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/overview/. Last accessed: 2nd June 2024.

[2] Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 8 (4): p445-461. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31887%2FDCNS.2006.8.4%2Fjbremner.