In recent years, people have become somewhat understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I say somewhat because there are a lot of misconceptions and unfair portrayals of this illness.
PTSD has largely become a familiar term to many people because of our nation’s focus on veterans and the servicemen and women returning home from conflicts. Previous generations of veterans were simply referred to as “shell shocked” if they exhibited symptoms of PTSD. Our understanding today that people experiencing traumatic events might experience distress and difficulty at times is progress.
However, PTSD is a common illness that affects as much as 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population. Most of those diagnosed with PTSD have experienced interpersonal violence and car accidents rather than combat.
Most people living with PTSD get better within the first few months of their trauma, but some people might experience symptoms lasting longer. Nearly all people diagnosed with PTSD, including those with combat-related PTSD, are safe and hardworking people despite how they might be portrayed on television and in movies.
PTSD is often diagnosed after an evaluation where the doctor determines the patient meets the criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association. There are also a variety of treatments available to treat PTSD. The choice of therapy and the number of treatment sessions varies depending on the patient’s needs. Some therapies focus on building relaxation skills and developing a “farewell ritual” to leave the traumatic event in the past. Some people might benefit from discussing traumatic events they have experienced, and cognitive behavioral therapy can help a patient change unhelpful behaviors and thoughts. Medications, including some antidepressants, are also an option for treatment.
Here are some things to understand if you know someone diagnosed with PTSD:
- Most importantly, people diagnosed with PTSD are not violent and should not be feared
- If you have built trust with a PTSD survivor, it might be OK to gently ask questions about triggers and symptoms
- Don’t pressure people to talk if they are not comfortable
- Be willing to listen if the survivor would like to talk
- Don’t intentionally startle a person diagnosed with PTSD
- Respect their needs for space and privacy
Benjamin Griffeth, MD, is a psychiatrist Prisma Health’ss Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. He also serves as Senior Medical Executive of the U.S. Navy Operational Health Support Unit Jacksonville, Fla. He served in Manhattan following the 9/11 attack and in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011.