Updated August 2023,
Post-traumatic stress disorder is among the most misunderstood mental health disorders. The condition, which may arise after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, is diagnosed in about four percent of adults every year. Unfortunately, misconceptions and stigmas associated with PTSD can stand in the way of someone getting the help they need. On the other hand, addressing PTSD stigmas can help ensure that those living with this condition recognize its signs and connect with professional treatment.
Harmful PTSD Stereotypes
The following PTSD stereotypes are among the most common misconceptions regarding the disorder and can harm those who need treatment:
1. PTSD Is All in the Head
Technically, PTSD is all in the head, but that doesn’t make it less real. Post-traumatic stress is a normal and even healthy reaction to a trauma. This response can be seen as the brain’s alarm system, which helps the individual make split-second decisions when danger is present.
In those that develop PTSD, the brain doesn’t shut the alarm off when the danger has passed. The individual’s system becomes overly sensitive, and the alarm is triggered by related and seemingly unrelated circumstances. The trauma actually changes the way the brain functions by impairing the parts that control memory recall and regulate fear responses.
Not everyone with PTSD experiences the same changes in their brain. However, there are observable patterns that neuro rehabilitative services can effectively address.
2. PTSD Looks the Same in Men and Women
When most people think about PTSD, they picture a male veteran returning from combat. The mental image makes sense; combat veterans are at above-average risk for experiencing PTSD. Currently, men make up about 90 percent of veterans. Unfortunately, the stereotypes of PTSD can result in women not receiving a correct diagnosis and treatment for the disorder.
While anyone can experience this condition, about 10 percent of women have PTSD at some point in their lives compared to about four percent of men. Several research studies support this statistic, showing that females are twice as likely to have PTSD than males.
Men are more likely to experience certain traumas such as accidents, natural disasters or combat. However, women are more likely to experience the type of traumas that leave them emotionally vulnerable and lead to PTSD, such as sexual assault or pregnancy loss.
Males tend to be the face of PTSD, and the symptoms they experience are often seen as the classic signs of the disorder. These include bursts of violence and excessive drug and alcohol use.
However, PTSD often looks different in females. For example, women with PTSD are more likely to develop anxiety and depression. They’re also more likely to avoid activities and situations that remind them of the trauma. They’re significantly less likely than their male counterparts to develop a substance use disorder. Because the signs of PTSD in women look different than many people expect, the disorder may be less recognizable to friends and family.
Everyone with PTSD deserves treatment. Knowing how the disorder presents itself in men and women can help individuals recognize when they need professional help.
3. PTSD Goes Away on Its Own
In most cases, people develop PTSD within three months of experiencing a traumatic event. However, each person follows their own timeline. For some, symptoms appear later and persist for months or even years.
PTSD typically resolves after a period of time with or without treatment. However, the disorder is unpredictable, and for some, it’s a lifelong struggle if left untreated. Reminders of the traumatic event can trigger a strong response, even decades later.
PTSD is very treatable, and even some people who are never completely cured can experience a significantly improved quality of life. Common treatment plans include medication, cognitive processing therapy, exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
4. Individuals With PTSD Often Get Labeled
One of the stigmas associated with PTSD is that individuals struggling with the condition are often labeled as violent or dangerous. Studies have shown that approximately 7% to 9% of all individuals with PTSD were violent, and 26% of veterans were more likely to display aggression within the first year after returning from combat. Contributing factors to aggressive behaviors included alcohol and drug abuse, age and additional mental health disorders.
5. PTSD Happens Immediately After Trauma
Another stereotype of PTSD is that most symptoms occur within a few months of a traumatic event. For some, PTSD may not appear until years after an experience. For example, in cases of child abuse, natural disasters or accident, PTSD may cause depression and other symptoms much later in life. Some of the most common signs to look for include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Regular panic attacks
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Intense sadness or guilt
- Unexplained physical pain
6. Individuals With PTSD Are Nonfunctioning
PTSD affects individuals differently. Some may find it hard to function and engage in daily activities, while others may hold down jobs, take care of families and continue school. PTSD affects the areas of the brain that help with decision-making and memory, which may make it difficult for some to continue their jobs. Depending on where you are during your recovery, you may be high-functioning.
How to Be an Ally for Someone with PTSD
Healing from PTSD can be a long journey, but having the support of friends and family can make the process easier. While there are no shortcuts to overcoming this disorder, there are things that individuals can do to be allies for a loved one with PTSD.
Become Educated on the Topic
The more someone knows about how PTSD disrupts everyday life and prevents healthy brain function, the more understanding they can be for what their loved one is experiencing. Reading online publications and attending support groups can provide important insight into the disorder.
Recovery isn’t a linear process, and the individual may feel like they experience as many setbacks and signs of progress. Friends and family can serve as valuable support systems by staying positive and focusing on the good.
Provide a Listening Ear
For some people living with PTDS, talking about their experience helps. Rehashing the event repeatedly can help some people process their feelings. An individual can provide support by listening attentively and making it clear that they care. No advice is necessary; a judgment-free listening ear is most helpful to the loved one.
For other people, talking about their traumatic experiences is very difficult and can even make them feel worse. In this instance, friends and family should let them know they’re ready to listen but the individual doesn’t need to talk if they’re not ready.
Learn the Individual’s Triggers
A trigger can be anything that reminds the individual of the trauma. This may include certain places, people, weather events, smells, songs or points in time. Triggers may also be internal and include specific emotions, bodily sensations or physical discomforts such as hunger or fatigue.
While it isn’t realistic to avoid everything that could cause an emotional response, understanding their loved one’s triggers can help the individual anticipate potentially upsetting situations. It also helps them talk to their loved ones and create a plan for how they should handle flashbacks or panic attacks.
While an individual can play an important role in helping their loved one overcome PTSD, love and support aren’t substitutes for professional treatment. They can encourage their friend or family member to seek treatment by emphasizing its benefits and helping to address roadblocks to seeking treatment.
Seeking Help for PTSD
PTSD is a serious condition, and getting professional help is an essential part of healing from trauma. Recent years have seen significant improvements in treating this disorder and drastically shorten the duration of time individuals experience symptoms. According to one study, nearly half of people with PTSD saw improvement within a month and a half of treatment. The success rate is even higher for those whose treatment includes medication.
If you or someone you love has PTSD, FHE can help. Call us today at (844) 615-0125 to speak with an admissions counselor about our PTSD treatment program.