Nearly everyone experiences a range of emotions after going through a shocking or life-threatening event. Most people recover naturally from these initial symptoms, but others who may feel worse as time passes may be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Consider these statistics from the National Center for PTSD:
- About six out of every 100 people (or 6% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
- An estimated 12 million adults in the US have PTSD during a given year.
- Roughly eight of every 100 women (or 8%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with around four of every 100 men (or 4%).
A person with PTSD may:
- Personally experience trauma
- Witness a traumatic event
- Learn of trauma to a loved one
- Experience repeated or extreme exposure to trauma (such as first responders)
PTSD is a serious mental health condition that remains misunderstood. Let’s debunk some common myths about PTSD.
Myth 1: PTSD is no big deal
False. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be life-altering and get in the way of everyday functioning.
A person with PTSD may experience:
- Recurring disturbing memories
- Repeated distressing dreams
- Flashbacks of the trauma
- Intense distress (such as panic) and physical reactions (such as a racing heart) when reminded
- Avoidance of any reminders, memories, thoughts or feelings about what happened
- Inability to remember certain parts of the trauma
- Negative beliefs about themselves, others or the world
- Improper blame on themselves or others for what happened
- Lost interest in activities
- Feelings of being estranged/alienated
- Irritable, angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
- Easily startled and constantly feeling on guard
- Problems functioning well in relationships, at home, school or at work
For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms must last for more than a month and cause significant distress or problems in your daily functioning.
If you are struggling with PTSD, first, know that you are not alone. There is help available for you.
Myth 2: PTSD only affects military veterans
False. Anyone who experiences trauma can develop PTSD. Veterans have a higher risk of PTSD simply because of the risk of exposure to potentially traumatic events as part of the job.
But remember, trauma can take on many forms. Some examples include:
- Victims of rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse
- Victims of physical abuse or assault, such as a mugging, carjacking, stabbing or shooting
- Victims and survivors of a car accident, fire or plane crash
- Someone who learns of a violent or accidental trauma of a close family member or close friend
- Witnesses of severe injury or death to someone else
- First responders (emergency medical personnel, police, firefighters, 911 operators) who experience repeated or extreme exposure to trauma
- Survivors of natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes
There are different degrees of severity of PTSD, depending on the trauma you may have experienced.
Hearing about the trauma of a loved one, for instance, may not lead to the same symptoms as someone who spends a year fighting in combat. PTSD is a complicated condition, and it is best to see a doctor about your individual case.
Myth 3: PTSD occurs right after a trauma
False. In reality, PTSD symptoms usually occur within a few months—but not always. Symptoms may take months or years to appear.
Myth 4: PTSD leads to violent behavior
False. Although PTSD is a serious mental health condition, it is inaccurate to assume that all those who have PTSD are driven to violence.
PTSD has a wide range of symptoms. Among them is the tendency to avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event.
Myth 5: You can never recover from PTSD
False. Although the road to recovery from PTSD can be difficult, it’s possible to find healing and move forward in a healthy way.
People who have PTSD may struggle to recover if they do not confide in anyone. They may think they are to blame for what happened or it may be too painful to discuss. They may feel alone and not know that help is available.
Family, friends and people in the community can help someone with PTSD by letting them know that care is available and encouraging them to talk to someone. They can speak with a psychiatrist, counselor or primary care doctor about their troubles.
Help is available, and PTSD is treatable. With appropriate treatment, including prescription medication and psychotherapy, symptoms can get better.
You’re not alone. To learn more, download the National Center for PTSD’s guide to Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment.