PTSD: Myths and Realities

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) develops as a reaction to severe trauma. Despite ongoing attention by the media, PTSD is surrounded by a host of myths and misconceptions that frequently lead to prejudice and various forms of mistreatment.

The best way to break through the fog of misunderstanding is to learn the basic facts about this complex disorder.

How is PTSD Diagnosed?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders provides standard classifications for diagnosis of mental health disorders. According to the latest edition, (DSM-5), the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD are 1: Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence; or 2: Directly experiencing the event, witnessing the event in person, or being indirectly exposed.

Stress after a traumatic event is to be expected, but typically, symptoms that occur within the first month are considered “acute stress” and may resolve on their own. PTSD is diagnosed if reactions continue longer than one month.

Debunking Common Myths about PTSD

  • PTSD is never a sign of weakness; it is a human reaction to extremely traumatic events and situations. Symptoms are markedly different than stress and anxiety associated with events such as losing a job or getting a divorce, which can be extremely difficult in different ways.
  • Research indicates that symptoms of PTSD result from complex chemical changes that occur in the brain after a traumatic event. If you haven’t experienced PTSD, it is hard to explain and difficult to understand.
  • In spite of portrayals by movies and TV, individuals with PTSD aren’t dangerous, crazy or violent. However, some people with PTSD may display severe changes in mood.
  • PTSD doesn’t magically disappear, and people don’t just “get over” traumatic stress. It’s true that some individuals with PTSD find ways of coping with symptoms on their own, while many will need professional help. Without assistance, some trauma victims may struggle for months or years without any real resolution.
  • People with post traumatic stress disorder are never beyond help, and it’s never too late, even in cases of long-buried childhood abuse. Although PTSD is a difficult disorder, it is highly treatable with techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. In many cases, medication is prescribed to help with symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Reactions to trauma vary considerably from person to person, and PTSD doesn’t always show up immediately after the traumatic event. Symptoms often make themselves known within three months, but in some cases they may lurk for months or years, or they may come and go.
  • Not all veterans have PTSD, and not all PTSD sufferers are veterans. PTSD can affect anyone, and is often a result of childhood abuse or physical or sexual assault. Women are affected by PTSD twice as often as men.
  • Not all victims of trauma develop the disorder. Some people are naturally more resilient to traumatic events, often thanks to a strong network of support provided by friends and family.

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