10 Common Misconceptions about PTSD

Commonly associated with soldiers who’ve experienced unthinkable tragedies while at war, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can disrupt the lives of various people from various backgrounds. According to America’s Heroes at Work, a site from the U.S. Department of Labor, it afflicts 24 million people nationwide, eight percent of the population. PTSD can be acquired after enduring any kind of traumatic event, including war, physical abuse, a natural disaster or bad accident, and can result in symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, angry outbursts and depression. Because it’s a mental health disorder, PTSD isn’t fully understood by people with little experience dealing with it. The following common misconceptions have been disproven by mental health professionals and those who live with the disorder.

  1. PTSD sufferers are mentally weak: Like other mental illnesses, PTSD is considered by the uninformed to be characteristic of mental weakness. In reality, the effects of the disorder can be traced to specific traumatic events that are incomprehensible to people who haven’t experienced them. The period of recovery isn’t comparable to what people endure after stressful events such as divorce or losing a job, and how they psychologically handle the trauma varies from person to person. PTSD is recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  2. Everyone has some sort of PTSD: Again, PTSD is caused by a specific traumatic event not typically experienced by the average person. PTSD sufferers undergo changes in their brains resulting in symptoms worse than just depression. People who develop PTSD were inherently more susceptible to the disorder than others, often exhibiting prior signs of mental illness. After a traumatic event, the possible onset of PTSD can be exacerbated by receiving little or no help or coping with it inappropriately.
  3. PTSD sufferers aren’t victims: Without question, PTSD sufferers are victims. They’ve encountered events that, in most cases, were beyond their control and very few people experience during their lifetimes. They lack the psychological capabilities to recover from such traumas and thus need help in order to cope. PTSD is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s not something that can be ignored and forgotten. Individuals with the disorder need professional help to endure the symptoms that inhibit them from functioning normally day to day.
  4. PTSD symptoms manifest immediately after a traumatic event: In many cases, it takes a month or two before symptoms are noticeable, and they can be brought forth by stress and old memories. According to the NIH, a psychiatrist or psychologist evaluates a patient and determines whether or not they have the disorder depending on if they’ve shown at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least three avoidance symptoms and at least two hyperarousal symptoms (see link for more comprehensive explanations), all of which need to occur during at least a month in a PTSD diagnosis.
  5. PTSD sufferers are always unstable and violent: Symptoms of PTSD vary depending on the person with the disorder. Angry outbursts and violence don’t always occur, even if the illness was brought forth by events involving violent crime and torture. Ultimately, how a person reacts to a traumatic event is dependent on their individual attributes and sensibilities. For example, additional symptoms may include memory disturbances and the inability to connect and reconnect with others. The severity of each symptom increases and decreases and almost never remains constant.
  6. PTSD is limited to a specific age group: Children are vulnerable to PTSD too despite their apparent resilience to mental stress. In fact, a recent study undertaken by University of Miami psychologist Dr. Annette La Greca showed that children exhibit signs of PTSD two years after a natural disaster. Twenty-one months after the event, 29 percent reported moderate to severe PTSD symptoms. During a family’s recovery from a catastrophic hurricane, for example, a child may struggle with adjusting to a new environment, where they may be without their friends and some of their family, making the recovery even more difficult.
  7. Only one treatment is needed: The simplicity or complexity of treatment is wholly dependent on the person with PTSD. If symptoms are severe, then it’s reasonable to assume several methods may be used to control the illness. Psychotherapy and medication may be combined in order to produce a desired result for a patient. Doctors typically prescribe antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft) or paroxetine (Paxil), both of which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat PTSD. Each combats feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger and worry. Patients may also use benzodiazepines to relax and sleep and antipsychotics to combat other mental disorders.
  8. Therapy doesn’t work: Therapy does work. It educates the PTSD sufferer about the trauma and its psychological effects, and enables a mental health professional to find ways to neutralize the symptoms to the best of their abilities. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often used, including exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and stress inoculation training. Exposure therapy enables the patient to face and control their fear. Cognitive restructuring helps the patient realistically evaluate bad memories and deal with them in a healthy manner. Stress inoculation training teaches the patient to reduce anxiety and thus the PTSD symptoms.
  9. PTSD sufferers are unable to function in the real world: By taking the aforementioned measures and remaining committed to treating the problem, PTSD sufferers can fulfill their duties as employees. As previously mentioned, medication and therapy can help them make it through the day. If symptoms persist and noticeably affect their productivity, they should notify their employer of the problem if they aren’t already aware. Remember, people with mental health problems are afforded the same rights as everyone else.
  10. Recovery is impossible: Dealing with PTSD may seem like an unwinnable battle, but with the proper commitment, it can be defeated. Note that recovery is a subjective term depending on the patient. While symptoms of PTSD can be eradicated, some may define recovery as simply functioning effectively with the disorder. There are numerous PTSD support groups in existence with members willing to share their success stories. It’s a great way to build hope when the illness is adamantly against it.

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7 Responses to "10 Common Misconceptions about PTSD"

  1. Kw Cares  May 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    No one really sees the war the men and women still face once back home. Many Veterans suffer from PTSD. Of the veterans who have came back from overseas, 1 in 8 veterans suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. It is believed that the number of PTSD suffers is actually much higher. Many Veterans with PTSD feel embarrassed to reveal their struggle to cope with their experiences while fighting in the war.
    According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a condition resulting from exposure to direct or indirect threat of death, serious injury or a physical threat” (VA, 2010, p.1). The recent analysis and reporting on PTSD by Veterans groups and the medical community is commendable. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 2010, there were 171,423 deployed Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with PTSD, out of total of 593,634 patients treated by VA (www.va.gov). Thus far 84,005 Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran patients have been granted VA disability; of that about half for PTSD. Often disregarded is the fact that many of our wounded veterans are surviving injuries that would have resulted in their fatality in wars past. Given the escalating costs of medical care and budget constraints it will be interesting to see if Congress maintains it’s commitment to supporting the troops after they have left the battlefield.
    Keller Williams Elite Properties is stepping forward to make a difference in the community and are dedicated to helping our Veterans who suffer from PTSD and have been unable to get the proper treatment needed. Keller Williams Elite Properties is fundraising to raise awareness and funds for the relief and support for the Troops with PTSD. This coming Thursday, May 12, 2011 marks the first kick-off of the awareness and fundraising events. The event will be held at the Sunny Isles Beach, Town Center Park, at 10 am. Keller Williams Elite Properties is sponsoring the event.
    • Guest speakers are: Dr. Carrie A. Elk (Ph.D, LMHC), an Accelerated Resolution Therapy certified psychotherapist who has been working in the mental health field for nearly 20 years; Eric Huskey, a Keller Williams Elite Properties’ agent. Eric enlisted in the infantry of the Marine Corps Reserves in 2005 and have deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2006 and in 2009; and Bill Barardi a Veteran of Foreign Wars and has PTSD.
    • The event will also have food, entertainment, and music.
    All Participants are welcome! How to Participate:
    You may register on our website http://www.kwaventura.webs.com
    or send checks or money orders to:
    Keller Williams Elite Properties (Memo *GIFFT/Red Day) at 20801 Biscayne Blvd #101 Aventura, Fl 33180
    PTSD affects so many of our Veterans’ lives, their friends and family’s lives who care, and the community. Veterans that are unable to seek help often turn in frustration to violence, drinking and drugs, and for those worse off – unable to integrate back into society – they become homeless and forgotten.
    ***If you know of someone who is a Veteran or if you are a Veteran with PTSD, please contact us.

  2. Paul  March 8, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    “Psychotherapy and medication may be combined in order to produce a desired result for a patient. Doctors typically prescribe antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft) or paroxetine (Paxil), both of which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat PTSD”

    This statement (above) is incorrect bad results. Drugs can not and will not cure, treat, or help the sufferer in any way other than to mask and prolong recovery. As well as compound other problems on top of what is already.
    Chemically infused aritifical drugs should never be used with this type of debilitating condition.
    Anything (“approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)”) means dick all.

    “Psychotherapy” In most all cases does absolutly nothing for the sufferer, however is great for the Psychotherapist (experiance and understanding better this “condition”.)
    Yet still they will not change their old school of thought.
    Stop trying to tell the sufferer what they need , and just ask them what they need. Then give it to them….

    This (P.T.S.D) is not a illness, a sickness, disease, or a disorder. It is an exhausting condition that is treatable. (please see http://www.greenrecovery.org)

    Very good article all other points are “Right On Point”

  3. Tim  March 8, 2011 at 12:06 am

    The particular kind of PTSD that is from human on human violence is different then a natural disaster or auto crash although on the surface they have similar symptoms. With a soldier, he/she is a victim and perpetrator at the same time. This is very complex and at the existential level which affects ones life at every level.
    To call the soldier a hero when part of them feels like a perpetrator can just confuse the issue. All this hero worship and support our troops, although not all bad, seems to be an overcompensation from how we were treated as soldiers/veterans after the Vietnam War. Only justifying or rationalizing a soldiers experience as “thats what you had to do for your country” can be shallow and leave out this more complex and deeper suffering that does not always show up as a PTSD symptom. One can use Mindfulness practices to settle the nervous system and discipline the emotions but even that, as helpful as it is, may not get to the betrayal that the culture has done to us by piting us against each other as young soldiers. It usually just numbs out the soldier more so they can be redeployed. The other side, or “enemy” is doing the same thing at some level. This is much more involved then winning or losing or good guy bad guy myths. The military is using drugs and positive thinking and mindfulness out of their proper context to help numb out the soldier so they can send him/her back into another deployment. As Secretary Gates said a few days ago, those folks who send these soldiers to these kind of wars “should have their heads examined”. A little late but honest. So I am tired of hearing that we ex-soldiers should have our heads examined for PTSD while the rich and policy makers who send us get off scott free. They are more of a perpetrator of these human on human traumas then the soldier is. They are trators to the basic goodness of our human race.

  4. jaluck  March 7, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Can’t argue with a single one of these ten statements. I’d like to address Number 10, though, if just to say we’ll never know if recovery is possible until we get serious about finding out. Funding for PTSD studies has been on a roller coaster for more than 30 years. No administration is free from guilt on the subject, although Bush/Cheney was by far the worst at the Federal level.
    What about States? Police, Firemen, Corrections Officers, and many others all are subjected to incidents and ongoing job conditions that can lead to PTSD. Their ability to get help was already hamstrung BEFORE the teabaggers started taking over so many State governments. Their futures are now dimmer than ever.

  5. gyberg  March 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Great information. Now let’s get this information to the VA Raters and Service Managers. They seem to follow a different set of rules than the rest of the medical field or psychological experts.

    I really don’t understand, how a non-medical person or non-doctorate rater for the VA can actually determine if a Veteran has PTSD especially when a Dr. of Psychology diagnosis one with PTSD.

    Even in a court of law, only Dr.’s in their perspective fields are allowed to make such decisions. Why is the VA different? Do they spin a dart board in circles with; Yes or No’s and blindly throw a dart, or is it dependent on what the news of the day is from the Management. Thank God these people are not in the military, all of our troops would be dead before they even come to a conclusion.

    The system is not right. It must be influenced by politics. What else could it be. This can be compared to a person with Cancer going to a Plumber for medical advice, this sounds right to me, don’t ya think. Who is running this system?

    The VA should be ran and operated by former service-members…. But wait, that means all Veterans would get a fair shake, can’t have that can we? Then they state they are here to serve the Veterans who fought for their country, and they wonder why so many of us Veterans think of ending it all!!! Makes sense to me. Where the hell is my frickin medication? Sorry, starting to lose it.
    Semper Fi.

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