6 Common Myths About PTSD

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The term “post-traumatic stress disorder” has been around for more than 35 years, but there are still a lot of misunderstandings about it. PTSD among military personnel can develop after physical injuries, such as blasts during combat, so it’s important that we understand the signs and symptoms of the condition so we can help those affected.

PTSD occurs when distress over a traumatic event impairs your ability to socialize, work and act rationally. But there are a lot of common misconceptions about PTSD, which is very complex.

Myth 1: You can only develop PTSD symptoms immediately after a traumatic event.

Not true. Symptoms usually show up within the first three months after a traumatic event, but it can often take months or years.

There are four main symptoms of PTSD: reliving the event; avoiding people or situations that remind you of it; developing negative attitudes toward yourself and others; and developing hyperarousal – being easily startled and having constant feelings of jitteriness. Other signs include depression, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia.

Some people will experience those symptoms continuously, while for others, they come and go.

Myth 2: PTSD is a sign of mental weakness.

While a lot of people go through traumatic ordeals and return to normal, many can’t, and it has nothing to do with a lack of toughness. Trauma affects everyone differently, and whether a person develops PTSD depends on many factors, including the type of trauma, its severity and how your brain releases chemicals to combat stress. Even your personality traits, your familial support system and childhood trauma play a role.

Combat injuries, seeing friends and colleagues die and dealing with a sexual assault are big factors that lead to PTSD in the military, and our top leaders know it has nothing to do with mental weakness. In fact, several military leaders and Medal of Honor recipients have shared their struggles with PTSD, including Iraq War veteran Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Eder.

This is a concern for many service members, but it’s largely unwarranted.

According to Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, having received mental health counseling is not in itself enough of a reason to revoke or deny eligibility for a clearance – several factors lead to that, not just one. There have been cases where severe mental health conditions have led to a denial or revocation, but they’re very rare.

Myth 4:Getting help will hurt my career.

Getting help can only better, not hurt, your career.
Treatment helps you cope with symptoms that might cause inappropriate outbursts or lead to poor choices and unnecessary risks. Those sorts of actions can cause you to damage relationships and lead to fewer chances of moving up in the ranks – even causing you to lose rank and pay.

A lot of service members worry that their unit will find out about their PTSD, so they’re less inclined to get help. But the majority of mental health care cases are confidential. Some cases – such as being suicidal or requiring your weapon to be taken away for a while – might mean your command structure will have to be informed, but no one outside your chain of command needs to know unless you tell them.

Myth 5: Treatment doesn’t work.

It’s understandable that people are skeptical about getting help for mental illness, considering it’s a problem that isn’t easily solved with one counseling technique or medicine, but there are lots of effective PTSD treatments that have been developed through decades of research. While the symptoms of PTSD may never entirely go away, they can be significantly diminished.

Myth 6: Only people in the military get PTSD.

PTSD is almost synonymous with military service nowadays, but the truth is, anyone can get it. About 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Research shows that women are actually twice as likely to suffer PTSD as men because they’re more susceptible to issues like domestic violence and rape. Children who experience abuse, neglect or molestation also have a high probability of experiencing PTSD at some point in their lives.

PTSD can develop even without physical trauma. Seeing others get injured or killed, helping handle bodies or people with injuries, or just being exposed to mortal danger (whether during heavy gunfire or being near an explosion) can cause PTSD-inducing trauma.

Hopefully these facts help dispel any myths you have about PTSD treatment. If you think you’re suffering from the disorder, find out how to get help here.

Related content:
PTSD Awareness, Treatments Help Erase Old Stigma
Art Therapy Helps Service Members Cope with Trauma
Father’s Day Has Added Meaning for Vets with PTSD
Service Pups in Training Help PTSD, TBI Patients Heal