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7 Common myths about PTSD

For as long as humans have been fighting battles, there has been the psychological impact of warfare, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, despite increasing research into this field of mental health, popular myths still surround it; here we address seven of them.

Article by Fiona North
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MYTH:  PTSD is a sign of mental weakness.
FACT: This, unfortunately, is a very common myth, which may be rooted in an individual’s visceral, emotional beliefs about what it means to be a member of the military. Therefore, it is a difficult myth to combat. Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness, be it mental weakness or weakness of character. It is an understandable human response to uncommon experiences. Although the most common outcome following trauma is one of recovery or resiliency, there are several factors, besides one’s own internal strength, that may influence whether an individual will develop PTSD, including: severity of the trauma; type of trauma (ie was it an interpersonal trauma where someone was specifically targeted, such as rape? Or was it something that happened by chance, like a natural disaster); number of traumas (ie previous trauma experienced in youth, or experiencing multiple traumas at once or compounded upon one another); duration
(ie was the trauma a one-time event or long-term); one’s neurobiology, and whether the person has a support system to help them. Individuals are at increased risk for PTSD if they do not have a good interpersonal support system, which provides further argument for the damaging effect of stigma.

MYTH: Anything can be traumatic
FACT: While it is true that nearly any event can be stressful, there are a few diagnostic criteria that must be satisfied before the stress response can be classified as “traumatic” in nature, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Mental Disorders. These criteria include: (1) “Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence,” and (2) “directly experiencing the event, witnessing it in person, or being indirectly exposed to the event”. Some examples of indirectly being exposed to an event, might be repeatedly hearing or seeing the details of a traumatic event, perhaps a drone pilot. Drone pilots, while not directly in combat, are repeatedly exposed to potentially traumatic events. They also have the added stress of having to enter and exit the combat zone on a daily basis, returning to the family environment without much time to transition. Exposure through media (eg viewing television, films or pictures) does not apply, and neither does the death of a loved one due to natural causes.


MYTH: MILITARY VETERANS WITH PTSD are not “wounded.”
FACT: Veterans with PTSD are rarely granted the same reverence as veterans with physical injury. The fact is, these veterans went to war and made sacrifices for their country, just the same as all other war veterans. It may help reduce stigma to think of psychological injuries as similar to physical injuries — inevitable, collateral damage of war that is not indicative of personal weakness.


MYTH: MILITARY VETERANS WITH PTSD are not “wounded.”
FACT: Veterans with PTSD are rarely granted the same reverence as veterans with physical injury. The fact is, these veterans went to war and made sacrifices for their country, just the same as all other war veterans. It may help reduce stigma to think of psychological injuries as similar to physical injuries — inevitable, collateral damage of war that is not indicative of personal weakness.

MYTH: People with PTSD cannot function in military or work environments.
FACT: Military members with PTSD are often afraid to seek treatment for fear of separation from the military, but people can have PTSD and still effectively do their job, even a military job. It is a manageable and treatable diagnosis, so being diagnosed with PTSD does not necessarily mean one’s career is over.

MYTH: Nothing can be done for those who have PTSD.
FACT: There are several different types of treatments, developed for different types of people, which have all been found to be effective. If you have PTSD and have undergone unsuccessful treatment previously, there may be other options still available such as cognitive behavioural therapy, cognitive processing therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) or prolonged exposure. New interventions continue to be developed and talking with a professional is a good way to review many options with great results, to choose from.

MYTH: You can get PTSD immediately after experiencing a trauma.
FACT: Experiencing stress reactions
following a traumatic event is to be expected, and is rather commonplace. However, in order for these stress reactions to merit a diagnosis of PTSD, the symptoms must last at least a month. Within the first month, these stress reactions are considered “acute stress,” which is very similar to PTSD, but traditionally has a slightly greater emphasis on dissociative symptoms (eg altered sense of reality), and can be diagnosed within the first month of the trauma. Only if the symptoms last longer than a month, can the diagnosis of PTSD be considered.