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What Happens If PTSD Is Left Untreated?

Updated: Nov 2, 2021


A longstanding belief regarding PTSD was that it mainly impacts soldiers in combat, war victims, or journalists who cover hostile environments. When in reality, trauma comes in different sizes and is far more common than you’d expect. According to research, 70 percent of Canadians have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Figures suggest that 1 in 10 Canadians are likely to develop PTSD during their lives. Those who experience posttraumatic stress disorder struggle with personal relationships and or functioning in a job due to how the symptoms impact every aspect of life. It can affect both children and adults, and the effects of this disorder can appear months or, in some cases, after years of exposure to the trauma. However, there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that psychological interventions can help with this disorder. PTSD therapy has proved beneficial in processing trauma and learning positive coping mechanisms and is also known to help you live a more fulfilling and peaceful life.

So, what is posttraumatic stress disorder? And more importantly, what are the risks of leaving it untreated? Read on if you are looking to start somewhere regarding a recent or an old traumatic experience or seek guidance related to PTSD therapy.

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that often develops due to exposure to a highly stressful or traumatic experience. In other words, it’s like an alarm system in our body that alerts the brain by getting triggered during danger. This fight-flight-freeze response helps us to manage stressful, traumatic situations. However, the problem arises when this inbuilt alarm system cannot turn off and keeps getting triggered. As a result, it keeps the mind in a perpetual state of excessive chaos, commotion, and crisis, interfering with daily life.

Despite being a disorder that affects millions of Canadians, erroneous beliefs or inaccurate information exist concerning PTSD, keeping many who suffer away from the help they need. The information below helps you to get a better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Causes PTSD?

One of the crucial aspects of this disorder is that it does not impact everyone who goes through a traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder is prevalent amongst vulnerable people who have experienced significant stress in childhood or as young adults. Vulnerability in a person is not limited to trauma in the early years. At times, it has to do with the neurological make-up of people. Some people are more sensitive and therefore wired differently, making them more susceptible to PTSD.

Some of the events or traumas that are commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder are as follows:

Being exposed to actual danger, for instance, war or combat.

Being a victim of domestic violence and abuse.

Being exposed to accidents like fire, plane crashes or car crashes.

Being exposed to natural disasters like Tsunami, hurricanes, floods etc.

Being exposed to violent crimes like robbery, shootings, rape, sexual assault.

– First responders like the police, firefighters, soldiers, rescue professionals.

Being exposed to the death or a severe illness of a friend or a family member.

Going through a long and arduous medical treatment.



Loss of a job

Any of the above incidents can contribute to PTSD in a vulnerable person. The symptoms related to post-traumatic stress can start and persist soon after experiencing a traumatic event. Alternatively, it’s equally possible for new or severe symptoms to develop months, even years after the occurrence of trauma. Acute stress disorder is a term used when symptoms have lasted for less than four weeks. Whereas when symptoms have lasted for more than four weeks, it’s officially referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some of the ways PTSD manifests are as follows:

– Re-visiting the ordeal in the forms of flashbacks, hearing, seeing, or physically almost as if it was happening again.

– Nightmares and cold sweats while asleep

An affliction that persists through frightening memories, thoughts, and images concerning the traumatic memory resulting in a similar sense of crisis when the incident first occurred.

Issues relating to memory loss, lack of focus or attention.

Feelings of nervousness, startling, and a state of prolonged tension.

Feelings of unexplained anger, bouts of irritability, agitation and frustration.

Issues of avoidance. Dodging anything that serves as a reminder of past trauma, such as a particular place, people, things, etc.

– Feeling restless, shifty, experiencing twitching, tremor or finding it hard to sit still, also known as a hyperarousal state where one is constantly watching out for danger.

Feelings of shame and guilt, along with a distorted view of self and others. An increase in thoughts that are negative and self-destructive.


These are some of the common symptoms of PTSD. As stated earlier, post-traumatic stress disorder or any mental disorder does not manifest equally in those it affects. People with the same traumatic experience can very much have different symptoms of PTSD. It’s crucial to remember that trauma comes in various sizes and impacts people differently. But what remains static across the board is the real sense of struggle, sadness and depletion in carrying on with day-to-day life.

So, to answer the question regarding what happens if PTSD is left untreated? Sometimes, the post-traumatic disorder does get better on its own. However, at other times, the symptoms can steadily worsen.

When symptoms become difficult to manage, it can be counterproductive to leave trauma untreated. Without therapy or PTSD counselling, it can result in an exhausting existence where people can experience the following:

– Loss of control, violent rage, bouts of anger impacting relationships with close friends and family.

Excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and pain medication resulting in substance abuse for momentary relief from trauma symptoms.

– Severe depression with thoughts of self-harm and even suicide.

– Loneliness resulting from the manifestation of symptoms making it challenging for others to stay with people with PTSD.

Symptoms can persist no matter how old your trauma becomes or how much time has elapsed. If you have PTSD, those of us who specialize in the treatment of trauma would be honoured to help you heal. Like you would not leave a broken arm or a leg unattended and get proper treatment for it. Similarly, there is no reason for you to subject yourself to the devastating effects of unresolved trauma.


PTSD is indeed a result of long-term stress and hyperarousal of the primitive brain. Still, the crucial thing to remember is that it manifests itself differently in people. The type of symptoms is dependent on factors like personal history, world beliefs, coping strategies and level of support. PTSD is therefore complicated and can have serious ramifications if left alone. With the help of an experienced mental health counsellor and a proper diagnosis, you can take the first step towards recovery. A treatment plan that fits your issues will make post-traumatic stress disorder not only manageable but treatable.

The thing about trauma is that it can either destroy you or transform you. Selena Gomez, the American singer and actor, puts it rather poignantly, “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” Ultimately, the choice is always yours.

Contact us now to be connected to a mental health counsellor. We at Ward & Associates Psychological Services offer to counsel for clients anywhere in Alberta. We can make a positive difference in your life. Contact us now to have therapy arranged with one of our psychologists who specialize in PTSD.

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