By Amy Morin
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 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 a child who endured abuse, the consequences of PTSD can be long-lasting. Although public awareness of PTSD has significantly increased over the past few years, there’s still a lot of confusion about the symptoms and treatments. Unfortunately, as with many other mental health issues, there’s still a stigma attached to PTSD that prevents some people from seeking help.
These are six of the major myths about PTSD we need to stop believing:
1. Only combat veterans get PTSD.
It’s estimated that 7.7 million American adults have PTSD. Many of them are not military personnel. Anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic incident can develop PTSD. Natural disasters, accidents, the 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, and not everyone who endures a horrific event will become traumatized. Some people experience short-term distress following a traumatic event, but the symptoms only last for a short period of time. Other people actually experience post-traumatic growth. Following a tragic event, these individuals find new meaning and purpose in life. Often they report that their lives were made better by the traumatic event they experienced.
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 an individual’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 for PTSD as well. And 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 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. And many people with PTSD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, putting them at 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 reduce the symptoms. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and sleep aids are sometimes prescribed. Psychotherapy can be very effective for PTSD by providing the education and skills required to manage the symptoms. Exposure therapy may also be used to help people confront their trauma in a safe environment. And 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 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 importance of this issue. Improved communication can also reduce the stigma, and encourage people with PTSD to seek treatment.