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PTSD Awareness Month: Debunking Common Misconceptions

Rebecca Stegmann, MA, LAC

June is PTSD Awareness Month! In 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 13 million Americans had PTSD. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a cluster of symptoms that arise after an individual has been exposed to a life-threatening or otherwise terrifying event. Common symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, hyperarousal, increased anxiety and depression, sleep issues, and disrupted relationships.

In recent years, conversations about trauma and PTSD have become increasingly common thanks to social media. As awareness is raised about trauma responses, it is important to also address misinformation. Below are 5 common misconceptions about PTSD and the truth about the diagnosis.

1. Only combat veterans can have PTSD.
Early research on PTSD did focus on combat veterans’ experiences with post-traumatic symptoms, initially called shell-shock, soldier’s heart, and war neurosis (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs). However, we now know that anyone who has experienced a traumatic event could develop PTSD. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, the most common cause of PTSD in the United States is motor vehicle accidents.

Only combat veterans can have PTSD.
Other traumas that can lead to PTSD include interpersonal violence, natural disasters, difficult childbirth experiences, work-related experiences of first-responders, bullying or abuse, and diagnosis with a life-threatening illness (Mind).

2. People with PTSD are violent.

People with PTSD are not violent! The vast majority of individuals with PTSD never engage in any acts of violence, especially serious acts of violence (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs). When people with PTSD do behave aggressively, it is often triggered by intense fear associated with flashbacks and hyperarousal.

3. Having PTSD means a person is “weak” or incapable of handling a hard situation. Mentally “tough” people will not develop PTSD.

There are many factors that influence whether or not an individual will develop PTSD after a trauma. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, risk factors for developing PTSD include exposure to multiple traumas, feelings of horror or helplessness during the trauma, limited social support, additional stressors associated with the trauma (such as losing a job), and a history of mental illness or substance abuse. None of these factors indicate that someone is “weak”.

People with PTSD should just “get over it”
4. People with PTSD should just “get over it”.

As described by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, people with PTSD are ‘stuck’ reliving the most traumatic and terrifying moments of their lives. This leads to a confusing mixture of emotions and intense difficulty finding stability in the present moment. People with PTSD cannot just “get over” their trauma. The best way to help someone with PTSD is to be supportive, compassionate, and kind.

5. PTSD cannot be cured.

PTSD is not a life sentence! Therapy has been proven to be effective at helping individuals recover from PTSD by safely managing symptoms and restoring former life functioning. The American Psychological Association recommends finding a therapist who can offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, and EMDR Therapy. Medication can also help manage feelings of depression and anxiety that are associated with PTSD.

If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, or you’d like more information about treatment options, reach out to our office! Our trauma-informed clinicians are here to help.