Commonly associated with soldiers who’ve experienced unthinkable tragedies while at war, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can disrupt the lives of various people from various backgrounds. According to America’s Heroes at Work, a site from the U.S. Department of Labor, it afflicts 24 million people nationwide, eight percent of the population. PTSD can be acquired after enduring any kind of traumatic event, including war, physical abuse, a natural disaster or bad accident, and can result in symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, angry outbursts and depression. Because it’s a mental health disorder, PTSD isn’t fully understood by people with little experience dealing with it. The following common misconceptions have been disproven by mental health professionals and those who live with the disorder.
- PTSD sufferers are mentally weak: Like other mental illnesses, PTSD is considered by the uninformed to be characteristic of mental weakness. In reality, the effects of the disorder can be traced to specific traumatic events that are incomprehensible to people who haven’t experienced them. The period of recovery isn’t comparable to what people endure after stressful events such as divorce or losing a job, and how they psychologically handle the trauma varies from person to person. PTSD is recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Everyone has some sort of PTSD: Again, PTSD is caused by a specific traumatic event not typically experienced by the average person. PTSD sufferers undergo changes in their brains resulting in symptoms worse than just depression. People who develop PTSD were inherently more susceptible to the disorder than others, often exhibiting prior signs of mental illness. After a traumatic event, the possible onset of PTSD can be exacerbated by receiving little or no help or coping with it inappropriately.
- PTSD sufferers aren’t victims: Without question, PTSD sufferers are victims. They’ve encountered events that, in most cases, were beyond their control and very few people experience during their lifetimes. They lack the psychological capabilities to recover from such traumas and thus need help in order to cope. PTSD is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s not something that can be ignored and forgotten. Individuals with the disorder need professional help to endure the symptoms that inhibit them from functioning normally day to day.
- PTSD symptoms manifest immediately after a traumatic event: In many cases, it takes a month or two before symptoms are noticeable, and they can be brought forth by stress and old memories. According to the NIH, a psychiatrist or psychologist evaluates a patient and determines whether or not they have the disorder depending on if they’ve shown at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least three avoidance symptoms and at least two hyperarousal symptoms (see link for more comprehensive explanations), all of which need to occur during at least a month in a PTSD diagnosis.
- PTSD sufferers are always unstable and violent: Symptoms of PTSD vary depending on the person with the disorder. Angry outbursts and violence don’t always occur, even if the illness was brought forth by events involving violent crime and torture. Ultimately, how a person reacts to a traumatic event is dependent on their individual attributes and sensibilities. For example, additional symptoms may include memory disturbances and the inability to connect and reconnect with others. The severity of each symptom increases and decreases and almost never remains constant.
- PTSD is limited to a specific age group: Children are vulnerable to PTSD too despite their apparent resilience to mental stress. In fact, a recent study undertaken by University of Miami psychologist Dr. Annette La Greca showed that children exhibit signs of PTSD two years after a natural disaster. Twenty-one months after the event, 29 percent reported moderate to severe PTSD symptoms. During a family’s recovery from a catastrophic hurricane, for example, a child may struggle with adjusting to a new environment, where they may be without their friends and some of their family, making the recovery even more difficult.
- Only one treatment is needed: The simplicity or complexity of treatment is wholly dependent on the person with PTSD. If symptoms are severe, then it’s reasonable to assume several methods may be used to control the illness. Psychotherapy and medication may be combined in order to produce a desired result for a patient. Doctors typically prescribe antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft) or paroxetine (Paxil), both of which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat PTSD. Each combats feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger and worry. Patients may also use benzodiazepines to relax and sleep and antipsychotics to combat other mental disorders.
- Therapy doesn’t work: Therapy does work. It educates the PTSD sufferer about the trauma and its psychological effects, and enables a mental health professional to find ways to neutralize the symptoms to the best of their abilities. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often used, including exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and stress inoculation training. Exposure therapy enables the patient to face and control their fear. Cognitive restructuring helps the patient realistically evaluate bad memories and deal with them in a healthy manner. Stress inoculation training teaches the patient to reduce anxiety and thus the PTSD symptoms.
- PTSD sufferers are unable to function in the real world: By taking the aforementioned measures and remaining committed to treating the problem, PTSD sufferers can fulfill their duties as employees. As previously mentioned, medication and therapy can help them make it through the day. If symptoms persist and noticeably affect their productivity, they should notify their employer of the problem if they aren’t already aware. Remember, people with mental health problems are afforded the same rights as everyone else.
- Recovery is impossible: Dealing with PTSD may seem like an unwinnable battle, but with the proper commitment, it can be defeated. Note that recovery is a subjective term depending on the patient. While symptoms of PTSD can be eradicated, some may define recovery as simply functioning effectively with the disorder. There are numerous PTSD support groups in existence with members willing to share their success stories. It’s a great way to build hope when the illness is adamantly against it.
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