Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) : Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in adults or children who have repeatedly experienced traumatic events, such as violence, neglect or abuse.

Complex PTSD is thought to be more severe if:

  • the traumatic events happened early in life
  • the trauma was caused by a parent or carer
  • the person experienced the trauma for a long time
  • the person was alone during the trauma
  • there's still contact with the person responsible for the trauma

As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child's development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older.

Adults with complex PTSD may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.


Symptoms of complex PTSD

The symptoms of complex PTSD are similar to symptoms of PTSD, but may include:

  • feelings of shame or guilt
  • difficulty controlling your emotions
  • periods of losing attention and concentration (dissociation)
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches
  • cutting yourself off from friends and family
  • relationship difficulties
  • destructive or risky behaviour, such as self-harmalcohol misuse or drug abuse
  • suicidal thoughts

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Treating complex PTSD

If you have complex PTSD, you may be offered therapies used to treat PTSD, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).

People with complex PTSD often find it difficult to trust other people. You may be offered more therapy sessions than usual so you have time to build a trusting relationship with your therapist.

You'll also be offered treatment for other problems you may have, such as depression or alcohol addiction.

You should be offered ongoing support after your treatment ends.

The mental health charity Mind has more information about complex PTSD.

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