PostTraumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health disorder about which there is a great deal of stigma. People don’t understand the nature of PTSD, which has led to unflattering, false depictions in the media, and a lot of shame for sufferers. Here, we examine the truth of PTSD, and debunk the dangerous myths that surround this terrible condition.
1 Myth: People with PTSD are weak
This is not true, but it is an unfortunately-common myth. Developing PTSD is not a sign of mental-weakness, moral weakness, weakness of character, or any other kind of weakness. It is a natural response to uncommon and painful experiences. If trauma is targeted towards an individual (such as abuse, or rape), an individual may be more likely to develop PTSD. Other factors, such as the length of the trauma, and the number of traumas (did the new trauma compound a childhood trauma, for example) may increase the chance of developing PTSD.
2 Myth: Everyone who experiences certain events will develop PTSD
It’s true that there are certain events that make developing PTSD more likely (such as death, or threatened death, serious injury, and sexual violence), it’s not true that everyone who experiences these traumatic events will develop PTSD. Less than 10% of people exposed to general trauma (a natural disaster) will experience PTSD symptoms after twelve months, compared with 37% of people exposed to intentional trauma (an attack).
3 Myth: You develop PTSD immediately after a trauma
That’s incorrect. You can develop PTSD symptoms at any time. In fact, within a month of trauma, symptoms of PTSD are dubbed “Acute Stress”. In order to be diagnosed as having PTSD, symptoms must last at least a month.
4 Myth: Some trauma’s normal, but after a while you should just get over it
Trauma isn’t something that anyone, no matter how “tough” they are, can just “get over”. In PTSD, you can be walking down the street, feeling perfectly normal when you see or hear something that acts as a trigger. In that moment, you experience the same feelings you had at the moment the trauma occurred, the same terror, the same panic.
Also, as you age, the area of the brain that keeps our long-term memories separate begins to decay, making our old memories more accessible and, with them, our old traumas. If your traumas have been hidden away for years, you may suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by memories that hadn’t bothered you for many years.
5 Myth: Nothing can be done for people with PTSD
This myth is very harmful, and may prevent people seeking help. PTSD responds very well to treatment. Several treatments have been shown to be very successful for PTSD: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (exchanging harmful thoughts with healthy ones), Cognitive Processing Therapy (a specialist therapy used to explore trauma), and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (which aims to engage with the traumatic event, confronting feared stimuli).
The myths about PTSD make this condition feared, and cause stigma for the sufferers. By recognizing the facts, we can work to understand individuals with PTSD and help guide them to the help and support they need.