Understanding the Perceptions and Misconceptions of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be one of the most misunderstood psychiatric disorders of our era. Chances are you know someone who has experienced symptoms from this challenging condition.

Often associated with “shell shock” or “combat fatigue” experienced by soldiers returning from wartime experiences, PTSD can impact people of all ages, cultures, and nationalities who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic episode. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Having and living with PTSD is complex, yet so is dealing with others who have little to no experience with the condition.

Some might expect a PTSD diagnosis of a neighbor who returned from a war zone in Afghanistan, but what about the middle school girl who witnessed the death of a sibling in a freak accident? Then there is the female CEO who oversees a successful billion-dollar corporation but is haunted by a sexual assault she endured in graduate school. And for those with no knowledge or experience with the condition, they often wonder if PTSD is a temporary condition that can be quickly treated with a few counseling sessions or whether it requires a more complex and long-term treatment regimen. It could be either, but the latter is more realistic.

To explore these and other pressing scenarios, we surveyed over 1,000 people, approximately half of who had PTSD, and another half who didn’t, on the perceptions and reality of having and living with this condition.

The Many Faces of PTSD

It’s one thing for the military veteran who has returned from a war to have a negative response at the sound of a sudden burst of fireworks, but what about the high school principal who helplessly watched as a group of fellow tourists perished in a white-water rafting adventure gone wrong. Should they both eventually be expected to simply “get over it”?

Many psychiatric conditions produce symptoms ranging from mild to the complex. PTSD is no different. What is different is how people who do not understand the condition respond to others diagnosed with this stress-related disorder.

An astounding 73 percent of those diagnosed with PTSD have been told by others to “get over it.” If only the answer was so simple.

There are several myths associated with PTSD. A common one suggests that a trauma that happened long ago should already be out of mind. Another inaccuracy is that everyone with the condition is prone to violent behavior.

PTSD and its accompanying symptoms can be triggered years, even decades, after someone has experienced a traumatic event. While PTSD can be diagnosed after symptoms have been experienced for only a month, others can be suppressed for years or longer.

Given the complexity of PTSD, it’s easy to understand why those with the condition become frustrated with the responses of others. That’s probably why 84 percent of our respondents with PTSD felt those without the condition didn’t understand the symptoms and difficulties endured. However, 51 percent of respondents with PTSD were willing to share as much about their health as others wanted to hear.

Being supportive and empathetic are excellent places to start. Those with PTSD say encouraging words and sentiments of support are what are needed. Phrases such as, “I’m here for you,” “What can I do to help?” and “I believe you” are positive expressions. Or, “Is there anything you would like to share with me?”

On the flip side, some remarks should be avoided as they are regarded as turnoffs, such as, “Shouldn’t you be over it by now?” or “You poor thing, are you very sensitive?”

“Thanks, I’m (Not) Great!”

How are you doing today? “I’m great, how are you?” is a normal response. For individuals with PTSD, there is rarely anything “normal” about their day. Being forthright, people with PTSD might say, “Thanks for asking, but I’m not great at all today.”

Someone fortunate enough never to have experienced a traumatic situation often has difficulty understanding the challenges someone with PTSD experiences. However, those who have PTSD suggest being informed about the causes and symptoms and willing to understand the lifestyle challenges is a positive step that can improve communication between the two groups.

A common frustration echoed by 93 percent of our respondents with PTSD was they felt pressure to appear “normal,” when in reality, they were dealing with one or multiple PTSD symptoms such as changes in behavior, mood swings, and frequent flashbacks.

Maybe the most common misconception worth emphasizing is that not all PTSD cases are combat- or war-related. It was the top frustration shared by 74 percent of those with the condition. Another mentioned by 65 percent was that anyone could “just get over PTSD.”

It’s for these reasons that the first thing people with PTSD want others to know is that PTSD is real; 73 percent indicated as much.

Others making the top 10 included the fact that PTSD can stem from a myriad of causes, symptoms can vary in intensity and may be difficult to overcome, and engaging in certain activities can be difficult (if not impossible). PTSD is also not a weakness and is a medically accepted and treated condition.

Treatment options vary for each patient. Standard PTSD therapies include counseling, psychotherapy, prescriptions such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, cannabis options, and other alternative treatments like yoga which often involve mental relaxation techniques.

Noteworthy is that 55 percent of respondents with a PTSD diagnosis adopted a “need-to-know” strategy, suggesting they preferred to share only as much information as was necessary with others about their condition.

Your Perception Isn’t My Reality

Knowing PTSD isn’t a condition people can easily walk away from sometimes exacerbates the issue of how others should treat them.

An important point to consider is whether or not those with PTSD should be treated differently than individuals without PTSD. For 10 percent of PTSD patients and 37 percent of others, the answer was “yes.”

Perhaps a better way to answer the question is made easier by the 90 percent of people with PTSD who said they wanted normal treatment from others in their everyday lives. Interestingly, only 63 percent of non-sufferers stated their PTSD friends should be treated like everyone else.

Similar to other mental health conditions, there appears to be a disconnect between those who have the condition compared to those who don’t.

For example, those without PTSD perceived the severity of symptoms of PTSD to be greater than the actual severity of the symptoms. The same holds true regarding the impact of PTSD on everyday life, with the general public’s perceptions of the effect overestimating the actual effects reported by individuals with PTSD.

While the majority of people with PTSD want to be treated like everyone else, doing so can present challenges.

Unless someone has experienced or witnessed something similar, understanding the daily challenges of PTSD can be frustrating, especially when people attempt to isolate themselves or their issues from others.

For PTSD patients, explaining what they are going through is difficult. To help friends and family members be supportive, experts recommend finding everyday activities such as going on walks, playing cards, having coffee, or just discussing topics of interest. In other words, engage in activities that are both relaxing and provide positive stimulation for both parties.

Closing the Communication Gap

Effectively communicating with friends and family members can be difficult in the best of circumstances. When a physical, mental, or emotional condition is added to the equation, the communication gap can widen.

Overall, 85 percent of people without PTSD are anywhere from slightly to extremely worried about how to treat sufferers.

Compounding the issue, 89 percent of respondents without PTSD said they were worried about saying something wrong, and 91 percent mentioned they were concerned about doing something wrong. It’s easy to see how people with PTSD and their family and friends may walk on eggshells around one another.

To minimize potential issues, experts recommend family and friends become familiar with PTSD symptoms and consider changing routines to make the person feel more comfortable. For example, if TV or radio news reports include consistent stories that may invoke negative reactions, then scheduling other activities away from these reports is a good idea.

Knowing that someone diagnosed with PTSD will possibly show changes in their behavior, showing more patience with sudden mood swings or periods of manic or depressive states is also a good idea.

Given only 37 percent of non-PTSD respondents felt comfortable discussing traumatic subjects, adhering to some of these recommendations may help bridge any communication gap, which hopefully will aid their recovery and improve their quality of life.

Supporting Individuals With PTSD

Sometimes, even our best intentions come off as unintentionally awkward. That’s what 40 percent of our respondents who knew someone with PTSD indicated when asked if they believed they “unintentionally” treated an individual with PTSD differently.

Do you or have you known someone dealing with PTSD? Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents answered affirmatively.

Interestingly, 65 percent said they didn’t treat those with PTSD any differently, with 35 percent admitting they did.

According to a California behavioral health facility that treats individuals with PTSD, around 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point, with about 3 to 4 percent struggling with symptoms at any given time.

Behavioral health professions say people with PTSD often withdraw from activities such as attending parties or large social functions, show less interest in acts of intimacy and sex, or withdraw from any situation that might trigger a symptom or negative response.

For these and similar reasons, individuals without PTSD might be hesitant to ask about the condition or its cause. Slightly over half (57 percent) of respondents in our survey said they asked someone with PTSD about their experiences, yet only 48 percent said they inquired about what caused their PTSD.

PTSD Treatment Options Have Expanded

Psychological counseling and prescription medicines are routinely used to treat those with PTSD. Thankfully, as behavioral health care professionals research and learn more about the condition, additional treatment regimens are gaining acceptance.

It may not surprise you that a significant percentage of people with PTSD reported having had a negative experience with the medical industry. They range from ineffective treatments and a negative interaction with a treating professional to accessibility of care.

Over 40 percent of respondents with PTSD said medications like Zoloft, Xanax, and Prozac were prescribed as a part of their treatment regimen.  However, alternative non-medical treatments such as physical exercise, meditation, yoga, and cannabis products are finding their place as accepted treatments.

More Treatment Options for People With PTSD

Discovering additional treatments for individuals with PTSD is a step in the right direction. According to recent articles in major medical journals, scientists seem encouraged because they are learning more about the triggers of PTSD and new treatment options.

Traditional treatment regimens involving long-used prescription medications and counseling, combined with new options such as yoga and CBD, can lead to improving the lives of both people with PTSD and their close friends and family members.

To learn more about alternative treatments options such as CBD, check out RemedyReview.com for the latest information from medical and industry experts.

Methodology and Limitations

For this study, we ran three surveys: two surveys of people who had been diagnosed with PTSD and one survey of people who had not. To ensure that we accurately and fairly represented the perspectives of people with PTSD, we asked 25 people with PTSD in-depth questions about their experiences and used their insights to draft the two main surveys. These were responded to by 502 people without PTSD and 506 people with PTSD.

To ensure that we gathered accurate data, all survey respondents were required to pass an attention check. Additionally, a decoy question was used to eliminate individuals who attempted to cheat by misrepresenting themselves as having been diagnosed with PTSD.

Some questions have been rephrased or condensed for clarity. In some cases, percentages may not add up to 100 percent. This is often due to rounding and occasionally due to responses of “unsure” or “not applicable” being excluded from our charts. To present accurate data, outliers have been excluded in some cases, particularly when calculating average values.

This information is provided for entertainment purposes. The data presented is self-reported, and stringent statistical testing has not been performed. While we hope that it makes you think, we do not intend for this study to be used in any medical, political, or similar capacity.

Fair Use Statement

PTSD is a condition that impacts not only those with symptoms but also their family and friends. As long as it’s for noncommercial purposes, we encourage you to share this information. All we ask is that you link back to this page so that readers can receive the complete results of the survey.

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Sources

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6066583/

https://www.remedyreview.com/health/cannabidiol-and-yoga-can-cbd-deepen-your-practice/

https://www.everydayhealth.com/ptsd/common-ptsd-myths-debunked/

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms

https://medium.com/hopes-and-dreams-for-our-future/helpful-things-to-say-to-someone-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-90c371b1e049

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-symptoms-ptsd

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355973

https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/ptsd/news/online/%7Bac35ff1a-3729-416e-bdfa-f0a6d68d5f43%7D/first-fda-approved-study-of-cannabis-for-ptsd-in-veterans-underway

https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-ptsd-2797536

https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-ptsd-in-family-members-2797406

https://casapalmera.com/blog/how-ptsd-can-affect-relationships/

https://www.remedyreview.com/about-cbd/benefits-of-cbd/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-vets-demand-cannabis-for-ptsd-science-races-to-unlock-its-secrets/

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