Mental health stigma and discrimination against those who have mental health disorders is considered one of the most foremost barriers that keep people from seeking proper mental health treatment. While stigma surrounding depression and anxiety has lessened in recent years, posttraumatic stress disorder (aka,
PTSD) is a mental illness that is still surrounded by many myths and stigmas that not only keep people unable to access treatment, but also fearful of sharing their experiences with others.
According to the Sidran Institute, a trauma advocacy and education organization, an estimated 5 percent of people in the U.S.
have PTSD at any given time. Moreover, around one in ten women will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. The disorder usually develops after a traumatic event occurs, and is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks about the incident, nightmares, feeling numb, distorted sense of self, constantly being in fight-or-flight mode, and more.
Despite how common it is, PTSD is still something those who don't have it struggle to understand. Longstanding myths, such as the idea PTSD only affects veterans, have stood in the way of people living with the disorder from feeling empowered to seek help and support. Here are seven myths about PTSD that need to put to rest, once and for all.
PTSD Only Affects Combat Veterans
Though this myth is becoming less pervasive, it was a longstanding belief that only men who had served in the military could develop PTSD, and then only because they had experienced combat. Even before PTSD was called PTSD, it was called
"shell shock," and "battle fatigue." But, the truth is, PTSD can affect anyone who experiences any kind of life-threatening, scary, or shocking event — from assault, to accidents, or even divorce.
Motherboard reported, women in the military can also develop PTSD, but the majority of military mental health programs focus solely on the experiences of male veterans. Acknowledging that PTSD isn't just a wartime issue is a super important step in making sure anyone with this mental illness can receive appropriate mental health care.
PTSD Can Only Affect Adults
Another myth that surrounds PTSD is that children and teens cannot develop this mental health disorder because they have
resilience — the idea that, as Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child explains, children have "the ability to overcome serious hardship." And, while children are innately resilient, this does not mean they cannot develop PTSD. In fact, children even younger than six can have symptoms of PTSD: NPR reported in 2012 that 4 percent of teen boys and 6 percent of teen girls met the criteria for being diagnosed with PTSD. It's important to for people to learn to recognize the signs of PTSD in children, so that they can start getting help as early as possible.
Everyone Reacts To Trauma The Same Way
While two people may go through similar traumatic experiences, this does
not mean it will affect them the same exact way. For example, some people will develop PTSD after a car accident, while others involved in the same accident may experience acute stress disorder — which has almost identical symptoms to PTSD, but lasts less than month. What's more, someone could have no PTSD or acute stress disorder symptoms at all.
Your mental health and life experiences are not identical to anyone else's, so your reaction to trauma, and your recovery will not be identical to anyone else either. There's
no "right" way to react to a traumatic experience.
All PTSD Symptoms Are Visible
The symptoms of PTSD can greatly vary from person to person. You may typically associate PTSD with what's called
"hyperarousal" symptoms — such as being jumpy, anxiety, outbursts of irritability, constantly being on edge, or having visible flashbacks. However, similarly to panic attacks, the symptoms of PTSD are not always outwardly presented. Silent symptoms of PTSD can include intrusive thoughts, avoiding people or places that trigger memories of the trauma, feeling distrustful of others, difficulty concentrating, and more. Basically, not all symptoms of PTSD will be visible, and it's important to not invalidate the concerns of someone who doesn't show outward symptoms.
Like with other mental illnesses, there is a myth that people who develop PTSD are more likely to be violent or abusive.
Healthy Place reported in 2017 that research found that specifically combat veterans with PTSD were determined to have only a "slightly elevated risk of committing some kind of physical aggression" when compared to the general population.
According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), people with mental illness are
twelve times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than those who don't have a mental health disorder. Further, as Girls' Globe reported, one study discovered woman who were sexually assaulted one time were 35 times more likely to be revictimized again. So, if anything, PTSD can make someone more vulnerable to experiencing violence, rather than perpetrating it.
There may not be a cure for PTSD, or most mental illnesses, but it is a complete myth that the disorder cannot be managed. The American Psychological Association (
APA) recommends different variations of cognitive behavioral therapy can be a productive way to treat PTSD, as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ( EMDR), therapy, and psychiatric medications. Further, studies have found dialectal behavioral therapy ( DBT) — which is based around mindfulness skills and emotional regulation — can help ease PTSD symptoms. So, there are many ways to maintain your mental health even when living with PTSD.
People With PTSD Are "Damaged Goods"
One of the most dangerous and stigmatizing myths we need to put to rest about PTSD is that people who have the disorder cannot lead happy lives, have healthy relationships, or find fulfillment after trauma. Science is beginning to show that
neuroplasticity — aka, the concept that, with treatment, your brain can rewire itself and form connections harmed by trauma — is totally possible, even for people with chronic PTSD.
With the correct mental health professionals on your side, and a healthy support system, healing from PTSD is not out-of-reach. By debunking the myths that surround PTSD, and deepening our understanding of this complex mental illness, hopefully more people will feel safe enough seek treatment — rather than living in silence.