After a traumatic event, you may be at risk for developing post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This is a serious mental condition when someone is exposed to death, serious injury or sexual violence.
Scott & White psychiatrist V. Maxanne Flores, MD, says about 8 percent of Americans will develop PTSD during their lifetime and an estimated 3.5 percent of Americans have PTSD at any given time.
A person with PTSD:
- Experiences the trauma themselves.
- Witnesses the trauma to someone else.
- Learns of trauma to a loved one.
- Has repeated or extreme exposure to trauma (such as first responders).
There can be a lot of talk about PTSD and a lot of misunderstandings. Here are five myths that need some clarification.
Myth 1: PTSD is No Big Deal — False
If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be life-altering. Dr. Flores says there are a number of things that can happen after the trauma that get in the way of everyday functioning.
The person with PTSD may have:
- Recurring disturbing memories.
- Repeated distressing dreams.
- Flashbacks of the trauma.
- Intense distress (such as panic) and physical reactions (such as racing heart) when reminded.
- Avoidance to 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, startled easily and always feel on guard.
- Problems functioning well in relationships, at home, school or work.
Myth 2: PTSD Only Affects Veterans of War – False
In reality, although PTSD affects veterans, it can affect anyone. There are different degrees of severity of PTSD, depending on the trauma you may have experienced. It is a complicated condition, and it is best to see a doctor about your individual case. Hearing about the trauma of a loved one may not bring about PTSD in the same way as spending a year fighting in combat might.
Dr. Flores says there are many people who may suffer from PTSD. Some examples include:
- Victims of rape or other sexual assault/sexual abuse.
- Victims of physical abuse/ physical assault/ muggings/ carjackings/ stabbings/ shootings.
- Victims/survivors of serious injuries (such as car accidents, fires or plane crashes).
- Those who learn of a violent or accidental trauma of a close family member or close friend.
- Witnesses of serious injury or death to someone else.
- First responders (emergency medical personnel, police, fire fighters, 911 operators) to traumatic events who experience repeated or extreme exposure to trauma.
- Victims of natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes).
Myth 3: If I Have PTSD I’ll Never Get Better — False
People who have PTSD may not confide in anyone. They may erroneously think they are to blame for what happened. It may be too painful to discuss. They may feel alone and not know that help is available.
“Help is available and PTSD is treatable,” says Dr. Flores. “With appropriate treatment, symptoms can get better.”
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.
As a psychiatrist, Dr. Flores and others can evaluate a person to see whether they might have PTSD and discuss treatment options with them. Prescription medication and psychotherapy can be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and improving quality of life.
Myth 4: PTSD Occurs Right After the Trauma — False
In reality, symptoms of PTSD usually occur within a few months but not always. Dr. Flores says symptoms may take months or years to appear.
Myth 5: PTSD Will Make You Do Outlandish Acts — False
Although PTSD is a serious condition, it is false to assume that those suffering from PTSD are driven to commit murder or other terrible acts.
“As psychiatrists charged with caring for those with PTSD, events like the murder of soldiers at Ft. Hood trouble us,” says Scott & White psychiatrist Alexander Thompson, MD, MBA, MPH. “This is because they have the potential to further stigmatize active duty military and veterans suffering from PTSD.”
The first question on many minds after hearing about a terrible act may be, “He must be mentally ill….he must have PTSD, right?”
Dr. Thompson says, “This is a ridiculous question because the implication is that being in situations that might contribute to PTSD and then suffering from PTSD might cause someone to decide to murder other people.”
Instead of pointing the finger to PTSD, Dr. Thompson argues that the decision to murder others is a crime and many other things, “but it is not a mental illness and not a symptom of PTSD.”
When talking about PTSD, it can help us realize how difficult life can be for those who have served our country, both overseas and at home.
“It drives us to work hard to find better ways to prevent and treat PTSD so those suffering can return to high function in all areas of life as they would like and deserve,” says Dr. Thompson.