Nightmares, hyper-vigilance, a feeling of always being on-edge, and the resulting short-temper and disconnection from those around you; these are just a few of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which will affect 8 percent of the American population as a whole in their lifetime. Despite how common PTSD is, both inside and outside the military, many myths and misperceptions about the condition persist. In this first of a two part series, we help separate fact from fiction.
1. PTSD isn’t real, it’s all in their heads: PTSD is a very real reaction to witnessing or experiencing trauma, and does not always develop right away, sometimes manifesting hours, days, months or years afterwards, and can re-emerge after recovery, triggered by events such as anniversaries of the trauma. It is a change to how the brain functions and how you view the world. As such, PTSD as a whole has sometimes been explained as a way in which you process the trauma, learning from it and working through it after the danger has passed and survival mode is no longer limiting your perspectives.
2. Only weak people get PTSD: False! Even the strongest of people can suffer from PTSD. Indeed, several military leaders and Medal of Honor recipients have come forward to let others know that they had PTSD and have recovered.
3. If you haven’t been wounded, then you shouldn’t have PTSD: You don’t need to have been wounded to suffer from PTSD, as it often manifests itself after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. One prime example of this was the civilians who were part of the September 11th rescue crews who developed PTSD following months of picking through rubble to locate bodies, even though they weren’t physically harmed.
4. If PTSD were real, then everyone who has experienced a trauma would have it: Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event will suffer from PTSD, as research indicates that each individual exposed to a trauma has their own set of risk factors for potentially developing PTSD, some of which are genetics, past history of other traumas and the degree or duration of their exposure to traumatic events. It is important to emphasize here that while not all people will develop PTSD in response to a trauma; this makes it no less real or valid for those who do experience it.
If you or someone you know is or might be suffering from PTSD, don’t be afraid to reach out and make the connection. Resources from the National Directory (NRD),the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as the Services’ wounded warrior programs: Navy Safe Harbor, Army Wounded Warrior (AW2), Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2), the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (USMCWWR) and the USSOCOM Care Coalition can help get you started on your way to recovery. In addition, check this blog as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and tips about PTSD throughout the rest of the month. Finally, there is hope: PTSD does not and will not define you, and with some help, it is a hurdle that you can and will overcome.