PTSD has its day of recognition because it is not a matter that we can easily brush aside. Currently, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects 5.2 million people in the United States. Signs of PTSD existed long before we lived. Herodotus, Hippocrates, and Lucretius wrote about traumatic flashbacks after wars. In the 1800s, the term is formally called Battle Exhaustion or Soldier’s Fatigue. A century later, we called it Shell Shock.
As we can see, PTSD is not a new phenomenon. We simply know it by different names before the term we are using now.
What is PTSD?
Although the public is more familiar with PTSD as a condition military personnel go through, this is far from the truth. Disturbing events can trigger Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can be first-hand or second-hand, depending on whether the person experiences it or, in the case of the latter, hearing or seeing someone else’s experience.
Unfortunately, more than 2000 years of historical examples are not enough to make the world understand PTSD. It is as if the world refuses to acknowledge its existence, which feeds more myths and stigmas around the condition.
Why the “Just get over it” Advice Will Never Work
Having our fight or flight response react in a scary event is typical. It is a way our brain protects us from dangerous situations. For instance, our brains will tell us to run if a tiger chases us. When we are safe from being feline food, we will feel better.
Having PTSD can be debilitating. Some exhibit avoidance symptoms, which make one avoid triggering events, places, or things. For example, a trauma survivor now has trouble being alone at home because the traumatic event occurred when nobody else was with them. Others show reactivity symptoms, which causes one to stay on ‘alert mode’ that makes them constantly feeling jumpy and strained. Most commonly, trauma survivors can have symptoms such as anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks. As you can see, PTSD cannot magically disappear with us telling them to get over it.
Stigmas around PTSD
Think about it like this, if you get sick and call in sick to work, does that mean you are incompetent? Can you predict that you will get sick when you suddenly wake up feeling like your whole body aches? If the answer is no, then it is the same with people with PTSD. Nobody likes to get sick. Bearing that in mind, people with PTSD are the same - they never ask to encounter a traumatic event. I imagine they indeed never ask for a constant reminder of the horrible experience either. Guilt and low self-esteem usually run strong in someone with a mental condition, so blaming a trauma survivor will not help them get better.
The People Who Get PTSD have Weak Minds
PTSD can happen to anyone. Most factors are beyond their control, such as genetics. A study on Holocaust survivors found that children of the Holocaust survivors got increased stress hormones from their parents. These stress hormones make them prone to trauma more than other people.
We need to try putting ourselves in their shoes. Some trauma survivors have suffered alone with their ordeal for a long time, while others develop PTSD because of profound, unimaginable, adverse events that happened to them.
PTSD will occur right after the traumatic event
Yes, symptoms can start right after the incident. However, there is also PTSD that develops after some years have passed. All PTSD signs are hard to tackle. But when it haunts someone years later, all of a sudden, one feels pulled back into the unpleasant past. Especially it can be confusing when they start showing symptoms due to trauma abruptly that never occurred before.
Stigmas about Therapy and Medication
One size does not fit all when it comes to mental health treatment. Forcing someone to move on without help when the trauma survivor is not able will never be helpful. Other unhelpful remarks include telling them not to get help because it is shameful or taking medications would make them an addict. Medications like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help someone with PTSD symptoms like constant anxiety to function. It can also make them more responsive to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a method that reframes minds about their fear in a safe space.
How can You Help?
It is paramount to combat stigmas to allow people suffering from PTSD to safely reach out for help, especially men, who talk less about mental health. Educate yourself to learn more about PTSD and when someone confides in you about their trauma, acknowledge their feelings. Be there and listen to stop them from reverting into self-guilt.
Help them bit by bit to re-join the world. For instance, if your friend feels unsafe going outside after a traumatic event, ask them to sit with you in your garden or balcony. Then, gradually increase spending time outdoors by asking them to walk with you on the sidewalk until they can be outside comfortably again.
Supporting someone with a mental health condition can be mentally taxing. Recovery can take time, but be compassionate with yourself and with your loved ones. Never feel guilty when you feel like you cannot alleviate their ailments. Your mental health is just as important, so take care of it and remember to take breaks.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis and needs someone to talk to, please call a 24-hour crisis center managed by Mental Health America at 1-800-273-8255 or SAMHSA Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990.