Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common issues I encounter in my therapy practice. Whether it's an adult who narrowly survived a serious car accident, or it's a child who endured abuse, the consequences can be long-lasting.
Although public awareness of PTSD has increased significantly over the past few years, there's still a lot of confusion about the symptoms and treatments. And unfortunately, like other mental health issues, there's still a stigma attached to PTSD that prevents some people from seeking help.
Since June is PTSD Awareness Month, it's a good time to dispel some of the major myths:
1. Only combat veterans get PTSD.
It's estimated that 7.7 million American adults have PTSD. Many of them are not military personal.
Anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic incident could develop PTSD. Natural disasters, accidents, loss of a loved one, and near-death experiences are just a few of the events that can lead to PTSD.
2. Everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event gets PTSD.
People respond to traumatic experiences differently. Not everyone who endures a horrific event will become traumatized.
Some people experience short-term distress following a traumatic event. But, the symptoms resolve within a short period of time.
Other people actually experience posttraumatic growth. Following a tragic event, these individuals find new meaning and purpose in life. Ultimately, they report their lives were made better by a traumatic event.
3. People who get PTSD are weak.
PTSD has nothing to do with mental strength. There are risk factors that place some people at a higher risk, but many of those factors are not within a person's control.
Someone who felt helpless during a traumatic event--like an individual who was taken hostage--is at a higher risk than someone who was able to save themselves from a fire.
People who lack social support following a traumatic event are at a higher risk as well. Those who have a history of depression may also be more likely to develop PTSD.
4. PTSD isn't a big deal.
People with PTSD aren't just being overly dramatic and they're not simply seeking attention. Their symptoms can be debilitating.
People with PTSD often experience higher rates of divorce and unemployment. They're also at a higher risk of depression and suicide.
Many people with PTSD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. They are at a higher risk of developing serious substance abuse problems.
5. There aren't any treatments available for PTSD.
There isn't a single medication that cures PTSD, but medication can help reduce the symptoms. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and sleep-aids are sometimes prescribed.
Psychotherapy can be very effective for PTSD. Therapy can provide education and skills to manage the symptoms.
Exposure therapy may also be used to help people confront their trauma in a safe environment. Virtual reality exposure therapy has shown promising results with combat veterans.
6. PTSD is a personal issue.
Like other mental health issues, PTSD can take a serious toll on an individual's ability to perform his job. Reduced productivity, increased absences, and difficulty staying engaged with the job are just a few of the problems employees may experience.
In-service trainings and open conversations about mental health issues like PTSD can help employees recognize the issue. Additionally, it can reduce the stigma and encourage people with PTSD to seek treatment.