Three Common PTSD Myths

After a person experiences a traumatic event, they can experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares. If these symptoms worsen to the point that they interfere with their daily functioning and persist for a month or more, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be appropriate.

While most individuals exposed to trauma do not develop PTSD, The American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM 5) estimates that nearly 9% of the US population will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Many others will develop another trauma-related disorder such as acute stress disorder or adjustment disorder. 

Despite the prevalence of PTSD, there remains a stigma and a lack of understanding of this and related conditions. In this post, I briefly discuss three common PTSD myths that perpetuate this stigma and undermine people seeking treatment.

Myth I. PTSD Only Applies To Active Military Soldiers Or Veterans

While PTSD can be more common among active and veteran members of the military compared to the general public, any person who lives through or witnesses a trauma can develop PTSD. For instance, a person may develop PTSD after surviving or witnessing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. They may also develop PTSD after living through a natural disaster, working in law enforcement, or as a first responder. In fact, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), one of the first evidence-based treatments for PTSD, was initially developed to treat survivors of sexual abuse. However, CPT and other effective psychotherapies, such as prolonged exposure, are often more well-known for their use in the military due to research funding and the high rates of trauma among those exposed to war.

Myth II. PTSD Occurs Immediately Or Shortly After The Trauma

Many people with PTSD develop severe symptoms within the first 3 months following the trauma. However, others go 6 months or longer before meeting diagnostic criteria. While it is not entirely clear as to why some people develop PTSD immediately and others have a delayed onset, it is common for those in the latter group to have experienced mild symptoms shortly after the trauma that became more severe over time. Also, people who experience co-occurring trauma may not have the capacity to process them simultaneously and others may experience a later trauma that elicits a stronger reaction to an earlier trauma. Symptoms can also come and go over time. As a result, it is important to consider the possibility of PTSD if you are experiencing trauma symptoms even if it has been over 6 months (or even years) since the trauma or you experience a seemingly inconsistent pattern of symptoms. 

Myth III. PTSD Can’t Be Treated

Several effective treatments can help people recover from PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. While medication can often help manage PTSD symptoms, psychotherapy can help you manage and recover from PTSD. The onset of PTSD is also tied to one or more index traumatic events. As a result, psychotherapy is often recommended first with medication supplementing it as needed. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) strongly recommends four psychotherapies for treating PTSD, including cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Brief eclectic therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, narrative exposure therapy, and medication are conditionally recommended by the APA. Though not yet recommended by the APA, accelerated resolution therapy (ART) and other techniques are also commonly used for treating trauma. 

Though not included in the DSM 5, individuals who experience multiple traumas are often considered to have complex PTSD (C-PTSD), and those who experienced trauma during key developmental years may be described as having developmental trauma. While the severity of symptoms can vary across these variations of PTSD, treatment approaches are often similar and effective.

Do You Need PTSD Treatment?

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder—or are displaying the signs or symptoms of this condition—help is available. I strongly encourage you to reach out for professional support today. You can contact us directly, connect with us on social media, or seek out help from many other qualified mental health professionals. As the risk of suicide is also elevated in those with PTSD and trauma-related conditions, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 if you or someone you know are thinking of suicide and 911 or your local emergency room if you have a plan and/or are taking steps towards suicide. 

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