Misconceptions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What Is It?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, is a disorder that causes individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event to have extreme difficulty in emotionally recovering from these events. According to a research done by Sidran Institute in 2018, 1 in 13 individuals in the U.S. develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Additionally, according to The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2016, nine percent of Canadians suffer from PTSD in their lifetime.
Often, PTSD can lasts for months or years, and things that may be seen as everyday events can trigger an individual with this disorder if it reminds them of the traumatic event. It is also important to remember that individuals whose friends or family experience harm can also develop PTSD, even if they did not experience the traumatic event themselves.
1. PTSD affects individuals directly after they go through a traumatic event
Although in many cases PTSD appears within three months after a traumatic event, it can also appear months or years after an event, affect individuals for years continuously, or even appear and disappear on and off over a period of several years, which often happens with individuals who have childhood trauma.
2. Only military veterans experience PTSD
Although PTSD is common in war veterans, it is a disorder that can affect anyone who has been through a significant event that has traumatized them such as domestic violence, childhood abuse, or seeing something bad happen to a loved one, including young children. Furthermore, 10% of all women develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their lifetime due to the fact that they are often more susceptible to domestic violence and rape. Children who have been abused, neglected, or molested are also more susceptible to developing this disorder.
3. PTSD is a sign of mental weakness
The factors that determine whether someone may develop PTSD has nothing to do with mental weakness. Some components that affect whether or not an individual develops this disorder are the longevity of the trauma, whether or not they have experienced childhood trauma, the type of trauma, and the way that their brain releases chemicals in order to combat stress. A support system or lack thereof is also a significant consideration.
Factors That Increase Risk
Factors that increase risk for PTSD include: living through dangerous events and traumas, getting injured, seeing others who are physically hurt or seeing a dead body, little to no social support after traumatic events, dealing with other problems at the same time as dealing with trauma, and having a history of mental illness or substance abuse. There are many more factors, and it differs per person, but these are the most common ones.
In order for an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, they must have the following symptoms for a month or longer:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom (flashbacks in which the person relives the situation over and over, bad dreams, agitating thoughts)
- One avoidance symptom (avoiding people, places, or things that may remind of the event, avoiding discussing said event with others out of fear of reliving the event by talking about it)
- Two or more arousal/reactivity symptoms (easily startled, angry, tense/paranoid, inability to sleep)
- At least two cognition or mood symptoms (trouble remembering parts of the traumatic event, negative feelings about oneself, guilt/blame, no longer interested in things they used to enjoy)
Treatment for PTSD can be psychotherapy, medications, and personal steps taken to advance treatment. Some examples of steps an individual can take in order to help themselves with treatment can be:
- Engaging in physical activity to help reduce stress
- Setting realistic goals
- Breaking bigger tasks up into small ones
- Spending time with others and talking about their trauma with someone who they trust
- Seeking out comforting people or places
It also very important for individuals recovering from PTSD to be aware that progress comes in small amounts, and this is not something that can disappear over the span of a few days.
Psychotherapy can include exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Exposure therapy is when an individual gradually faces their fear in order to be able to eventually control it. Some ways that exposure therapy is used is imagining and writing about the place or situation of the event. Cognitive restructuring is used because often, people may remember traumatic events differently from how they happened. A therapist can help with cognitive restructuring by talking with the patient about what happened in a realistic way without the bias and emotions (such as guilt) that the patient associates with the events. Talk therapy, which is therapy that teaches individuals relaxation/anger management skills, the effects of trauma, how to create and maintain good sleep, diet, and exercise habits, and how to change reactions to reminders of trauma can also be useful.