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Misconceptions about PTSD: Part One

In this first episode of a two-part series on the PTSD Bytes podcast, host Dr. Colleen Becket-Davenport discusses some common myths surrounding PTSD with Dr. Kelly Maieritsch, clinical psychologist and director of the PTSD Mentoring program that supports PTSD specialty clinics throughout VA.

Myth: Only military Veterans and people in combat zones get PTSD.

Fact: Anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event can develop PTSD.

Many different experiences can lead to PTSD—not just combat. These can include physical and sexual assault, serious work accidents or natural disasters. These events can occur at different points in your life—ranging from childhood to adulthood—whether during military service or not.

Myth: Everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. 

Fact: Traumatic events do not automatically lead to PTSD, and everyone reacts differently to trauma.

People who experience traumatic events have a wide range of reactions, including constantly thinking about what happened, experiencing increased anger or fear, or having a hard time concentrating. Feeling upset or distressed are common reactions to trauma and, for many people, they begin to decrease over time. It is when these expected reactions do not get better over time that individuals develop PTSD.

Myth: PTSD occurs immediately after a traumatic event.

Fact: Symptoms of PTSD may take months or even years to appear.

For some people, normal-type reactions quickly transition into stronger reactions that negatively affect day-to-day living. For others, these reactions only start to affect them later on in life. Some adults do not have PTSD symptoms until retirement. Work may have helped distract them or bury their feelings about trauma for years.

In this video, Veterans describe why they were hesitant to get PTSD treatment:

Myth: PTSD is a sign of weakness and people with PTSD are broken.

Fact: There is no evidence that people living with PTSD are incapable of getting better given the right type of treatment and support.

Individuals living with PTSD manage all of their day-to-day tasks while having to constantly worry about events triggering memories of some of the most terrible experiences of their lives. In other words, people with PTSD take what we do on a daily basis and add additional struggles on top of it, which makes them resilient, not weak. And based on years of research, we know that people with PTSD can feel better.

If you want to better understand the wide range of experiences of people with PTSD, a good resource is the website AboutFace. On the website, there are many videos from Veterans spanning six decades of military service sharing their personal and heartfelt stories about their different experiences with trauma, PTSD and recovery.  

You can learn what PTSD treatment is like from the Veterans’ point of view as well as from the providers’ point of view. You can also watch videos from family members and friends discussing what it’s like to care about someone who is struggling with PTSD symptoms.

Additional links

Additional VA article on common PTSD myths

National Center for PTSD’s guide on supporting a loved one struggling with PTSD

Learn more about the AboutFace website on PTSD Bytes Episode #22

PTSD Consultation Program (for VA and non-VA providers)

Learn more about VA mental health apps

Find mental health treatment at VA

More PTSD Bytes episodes

If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 988 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat.

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