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4 common myths about PTSD debunked

Posted on 05-25-16 in Anxiety

4 common myths about PTSD debunked

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), recognizes this disorder with clear diagnostic criteria that include eight different possible characteristics. Symptoms must be present for at least a month.

The first DSM criterion has four components, as follows:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic event
  • Witnessing, in person, the event as it occurred to others
  • Learning that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or friend
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event, which does not apply to exposure through media such as television, movies, or pictures

The second criterion involves the persistent re-experiencing of the event through dreams, thoughts, perceptions, illusions or flashbacks. The other two criteria include avoidance of people, thoughts and places that directly correlate with the traumatic event and having negative thoughts, moods or feelings.

PTSD is often portrayed in movies and other media by soldiers returning from war and becoming aggressive, psychotic and angry — a major misconception about this disorder. Although PTSD often occurs in adults, it can also occur in children. Children re-experience symptoms of PTSD through repetitive play rather than through thoughts and perception. Children who have had childhood adversity, such as separation from their parents, are more likely to develop PTSD.

June is PTSD Awareness Month, so this is a good time to take a look at four common myths about the disorder that have been debunked.

Myth #1: Only war veterans can get PTSD.

This is a common misconception that is portrayed in movies and other media. Anyone who experienced a traumatic event can have PTSD. Victims of abuse and rape, first responders, individuals seeking asylum, refugees or those who witnessed a horrendous crime are all at risk for having PTSD. Studies have shown that approximately 30 percent of war veterans returning from combat will be diagnosed with PTSD.

Myth #2: People suffer from PTSD immediately after they are exposed to a traumatic event.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last for at least one month. People who experience symptoms immediately after the trauma will not necessarily be diagnosed with PTSD if their symptoms dissipate within a month’s time. When symptoms come and go within a month, it is considered an acute stress disorder, which is similar to PTSD with the exception of the month-long duration. PTSD is a long-term diagnosis, whereas an acute stress disorder is a short-term disorder. PTSD symptoms can recur for years, so it is important to seek help for this disorder.

Myth #3: Everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have PTSD.

The majority of individuals who are exposed to traumatic events will not develop PTSD. Up to 37 percent of individuals who experience an intentional traumatic event will develop PTSD. Intentional traumatic events are attacks as opposed to natural disasters or accidents, which may cause PTSD in around 10 percent of individuals.

Myth #4: Victims who suffer from PTSD are mentally unstable and violent.

PTSD is similar to severe anxiety. It does not result in psychosis and should not be confused with schizophrenia. PTSD is characterized by coping with distressing memories.

PTSD can be treated with the appropriate therapeutic approach. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy or prolonged exposure have all been shown to be effective in treatment. It is important to seek therapy for PTSD to learn to prevent and control distressing thoughts, and to live a healthy and active role in society.

About us

The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health treatment provider with locations across the United States. We treat people with anxiety disorders such as PTSD, as well as other mental health disorders, substance addiction and co-occurring conditions, using a vast array of evidence-based treatment modalities so that each treatment plan is customized to each individual patient. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at