Individuals in positions more likely to expose them to traumatic circumstances are generally perceived as “tougher” people: firefighters, police officers, medical workers and military personnel. As such, they aren’t expected to be people who can get PTSD as a result of this exposure.
After all, PTSD is what happens to “weaker” people, right? But actually, this is a misunderstanding of PTSD and mental illness in general. Anyone can struggle for a variety of reasons, and how tough they are has no bearing on their mental health.
Here, we’ll explain how dangerous this misconception is, both for people in fields associated with toughness and for others who face the consequences of a long-term battle with trauma.
Anyone Can Experience PTSD
Before we explore what people believe regarding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and why these misconceptions still pervade popular thinking, let’s make it clear: Anyone can get PTSD.
However, PTSD is more common among people with a heightened exposure to trauma in their careers. First responders, military members and even social workers who deal with extreme poverty and family violence can be more susceptible than the average person.
It’s also more common in populations that are more at-risk in their daily lives. People living in poverty or in areas where illness or substance abuse are more prevalent find themselves in more stressful and high-pressure situations — the kind where trauma tends to occur more easily.
But although some people are at higher risk for trauma, PTSD can happen to anyone, regardless of how tough or weak they are, and it does. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 7-8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
Understanding who can get PTSD helps promote the idea that treatment can be a solution for everyone, not just those who are “too weak” to overcome trauma on their own.
The Pervading Myths Around PTSD
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about mental illnesses in general, but PTSD may be one of the least understood. Here are some misconceptions that are ultimately hurting people’s access to health resources when they need them.
Myth 1: There’s a Certain “Trauma Threshold” for an Incident To Cause PTSD
When we talk about trauma, there’s a tendency to try to qualify exactly what trauma causes PTSD, viewing it in comparison to other traumatic circumstances. For example, someone might say that being in an abusive relationship is as traumatic as surviving a car accident.
But people’s instinctive attempts to try and rank trauma creates a misunderstanding about the conditions that foster PTSD. It’s not about trauma being bad enough to cause PTSD; it’s about an individual’s response to trauma and how those traumatic events affect their life specifically.
Myth 2: You Should Be Able To Get Over Trauma on Your Own
For the most part, people understand that trauma itself can happen to anyone. No one can predict when a tragedy will occur, when an illness will cause excessive stress or when a natural disaster will destroy homes and livelihoods. Many people do think, however, that the natural human response should be to “move past it” over time.
This is one of the issues at the heart of the belief that people who get PTSD are weaker than people who don’t. If society views the correct response to trauma as “just get over it,” the people affected by PTSD in the future were the ones who weren’t able to do that effectively.
But people who work in mental health treatment understand that this isn’t the case. It’s actually rare that a person can just move past a traumatic situation without some sort of professional support.
Myth 3: People With PTSD Aren’t Functional
Some people think PTSD is easy to recognize, because there’s a prevailing belief that when PTSD occurs, it causes the person affected to be unable to hold a job, maintain a relationship or perform other activities that so-called “normal” people do.
But this isn’t the case. Many people suffering from PTSD continue to live a life that those around them would consider healthy and functional. Some people even continue to operate in the same traumatic circumstances that caused their condition, leading to more severe consequences down the road. A Department of Justice study found that when police officers had fewer resources about PTSD and how the trauma of their careers affects their health, officers made more risky decisions on the job and in their home lives.
Myth 4: It’s Weak To Seek Treatment for PTSD
All these misguided ideas about PTSD culminate in the belief that people who need treatment for it are weaker than those who don’t. But this represents a major — and ultimately, harmful — misunderstanding about how trauma manifests and causes PTSD.
In fact, when people don’t have access to treatment after being involved in traumatic circumstances, they’re more likely to experience PTSD because they haven’t had a chance to resolve the consequences with the guidance of a trained professional.
The implication here is that seeking treatment not only has nothing to do with how strong or weak a person is, professional help may prevent the onset the PTSD in the first place.
Why Treatment for PTSD Should Be Encouraged
Over the past decade, tremendous strides have been made in terms of decreasing barriers to accessing mental health services. More effective treatment is available and affordable to people today than ever before, but in order for everyone to benefit from available care, attitudes need to change as well.
The belief that seeking treatment is a sign of weakness in those who get PTSD is damaging in two key ways:
1. It keeps people from getting the help they need, worsening their health and making a public health crisis more severe. Many of the people at high risk for PTSD are individuals who perform some of the most critical jobs in society. If police officers, first responders, and healthcare workers aren’t accessing mental health resources, everyone is worse off for it.
2. It sends a message to people who do seek treatment for their condition that they’re somehow inferior to those who don’t. It proliferates a sense of social class structure that stems from the fallacy that some people are “too strong” to be impacted by mental illness.
Mental Health Treatment at FHE Health
So, who can get PTSD? It’s clear now that anyone can, and as such, everyone needs to have access to the most effective treatment available. At FHE Health, we use an individualized approach using some of the most advanced methods of treatment for PTSD available to help our patients get the dedicated care they deserve.
If you or a loved one are struggling with the long-term impact of PTSD, don’t wait — call us today and learn about your options for treatment.