PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is one of the mental health terms that can get bandied around in jest – that date was so bad I think I’ve got PTSD; uni was hectic, I’m sure I left with a degree and PTSD!
This implies a level of understanding in the general population that PTSD is related to traumatic experiences. However, it is a serious mental disorder that is still widely misunderstood, which is why we’d like to debunk a few common myths.
Trauma ALWAYS Leads to PTSD
Trauma is another word often used colloquially to describe a negative experience – bad day at work, incompatible date, crowded shopping centre at Christmas… But the traumatic events we’re talking about here are bigger life events like sexual or physical assault, combat, accidents, natural disasters, or witnessing severe injury or death.
This level of trauma is unfortunately more common than we realise but most people tend to recover over time. They may experience acute symptoms immediately after as they process the event but they then likely continue with their lives rather than developing PTSD.
PTSD is for Soldiers
Up to 30% of soldiers can develop PTSD but you need only look at the list above to see there are traumatic events that occur outside the scope of soldiers’ professional activities. Women are more likely to develop PTSD following sexual assault or abuse while accidents, combat, and physical assault are more likely to lead to PTSD in men.
People with PTSD are Dangerous
Hollywood has a lot to answer for sometimes. Soldiers being triggered by a ceiling fan and reacting violently is a stereotypical scene depicting PTSD but can lead to misconceptions in the general public. Aggression and psychosis are not usually hallmarks of PTSD and any sufferers more inclined to violence tend to experience co-morbid psychological disorders.
PTSD Can’t be Treated
We don’t like to use the word ‘cure’ in psychology but we do like the word ‘treatment’. Multiple treatments have shown effectiveness in reducing and managing symptoms of PTSD, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Medications can also have a place in treatment to help manage mood, sleep, and other comorbid conditions. People can live a happy life while managing PTSD.
PTSD is a Sign of Weakness
Nope, nope, nope. Just because a small portion of people who experience trauma go on to develop PTSD, it does not imply they are flawed or weak. Many other factors determine whether someone develops PTSD, including the type, severity, and longevity of trauma experienced, previous experiences of difficult or traumatic events, personality traits, and level of social support. We can never reiterate enough that any form of mental illness is not a weakness.