Like many mental illnesses, PTSD is widely misunderstood. When most people think of the term, they imagine shell-shocked veterans returning from war, traumatized by their experiences. And while this image of veterans battling PTSD is an important one, it is far from the whole truth of this condition.
In support of anyone dealing with this illness, let’s explore a few lesser known facts about it.
1) It impacts more people than you think.
An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point during their lifetime, and 3.6 percent of American adults will experience PTSD in any given year. This means that you have likely encountered several individuals with PTSD during your lifetime.
2. It doesn’t just happen to veterans.
PTSD was first identified among combat veterans, and it has become a condition almost synonymous with people returning from war. However, not all veterans have PTSD, and the condition can be triggered by a variety of other traumatic events. The numbers for veterans? It is estimated that 30% of soldiers who have been in combat zones will experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25% of combat veterans will experience partial PTSD at some point. What is surprising is that combat veterans are not the population most likely to get PTSD. Victims of sexual assault are slightly more likely to develop the condition, with it occurring in an estimated 31% of rape victims. Survivors of other traumatic events such as natural disasters, acts of terrorism, childhood abuse, and car accidents are also likely to show symptoms of PTSD. It is important to realize that this condition does not just have one face. It can impact anyone.
3. It can be easily mistaken for other conditions.
PTSD can easily be misdiagnosed because sufferers often develop depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors once the disorder has set in. Why? The condition can cause people to lose sleep, become isolated and irritable, and eventually become depressed, or even suicidal. Many people with PTSD will undergo dramatic personality changes in a short amount of time, which can be confusing. Unless treatment professionals are careful, they can diagnose the surface symptoms without finding the underlying cause.
4. It doesn’t always appear right after the traumatic event.
It can take months or even years for PTSD to develop in individuals exposed to trauma. This is contrary to depictions of the condition in popular culture, where sufferers are often shown developing the condition directly after the triggering event. This also makes the condition even harder to spot, since the sufferer may not even realize that a traumatic past event is causing their symptoms.
5. There is more than one type of PTSD.
Most people assume that PTSD is a clearly defined condition that tends to occur the same way in all impacted individuals. However, the reality is actually more complex. Medical professionals have defined five different types of PTSD, and which type a person develops can be influenced by a variety of factors.
So what are the five types?
Normal Stress Response
A normal stress response is triggered by a single traumatic event. It occurs in adulthood and can cause emotional distress and numbing, unpleasant memories that are more intense than usual, isolation, physical problems, and other symptoms. This condition is a normal response to extremely stressful situations, and it normally resolves itself within a few weeks. If the condition persists, therapy or other medical treatment can be helpful.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder is similar to a normal stress response, but it is taken to an extreme. The sufferer will experience confusion and may have dissociative episodes. An individual experiencing acute stress disorder may be unable to maintain their normal work activities and relationships, and may even stop performing basic acts of self-care. This reaction normally occurs only in survivors of intense traumatic situations, such as a situation that results in a near death experience. This condition can be treated with medication and therapy.
This is the type of PTSD that you are probably most familiar with, since it is closest to the type often portrayed in popular culture. It occurs when an individual has persistent flashbacks to a single traumatic event. It causes increased arousal symptoms and emotional numbness. It generally also causes the sufferer to go to great lengths to avoid any stimuli associated with the trauma.
Comorbid PTSD occurs when the sufferer has both PTSD and one or more accompanying conditions. Common conditions that occur alongside PTSD are depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. Interestingly, comorbid PTSD is more common than uncomplicated PTSD.
Complex PTSD tends to be found in individuals who have experienced periods of prolonged trauma or extreme stress. Survivors of long-term childhood abuse, for example, are likely to develop this type of PTSD. This type of PTSD is less obvious to identify than others, and often suffers will self-medicate with alcohol, drug abuse, eating disorders, sexual addictions, and other self-destructive actions. Depression, panic, rage, and trouble regulating emotional states can be caused by this condition. Because this condition makes it difficult to manage emotions and can cause individuals to act out, sufferers are often diagnosed with other disorders, such as borderline disorder or antisocial personality disorder. Treatment for this type of PTSD can take longer than the treatment for other types. This is because this type of PTSD is caused by long-term repeated trauma, rather than a singular traumatic event. However, it can be treated with persistent work with therapists and other health professionals trained in trauma recovery.
These are just a few of the things that you probably did not know about PTSD. The most important thing to remember is that this condition can affect anyone. If you or any of your loved ones exhibit symptoms of PTSD, it is important to get the help of a mental health professional sooner, rather than later. The earlier this condition is treated, the less chance there is of developing harmful secondary conditions.