Everyone gets scared or sad at points in their lives, so most people can sympathize with mental illness, even if they’ve never been diagnosed. They can imagine what it would be like to have those feelings at an intense level.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a bit different, and it can be harder to understand if you haven’t “been there.” Treatment is more nuanced than standard cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medications. If you or a loved one is affected, learn about the top PTSD myths, so you can understand it better and move forward on a clearer road to treatment.
Myth #1: Non-military people don’t experience PTSD.
About 8% of people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Common triggers that can lead to PTSD include traumatic events like:
- Child abuse
- Experiencing a natural disaster
- Sexual assault
- Being a victim of other types of violent behavior
- Seeing someone else get hurt or killed
Myth #2: If you’re an affected veteran, it’s hard to find hope or treatment.
It’s true that there’s a higher risk of PTSD in war veterans than the general population. PTSD afflicts:
- 31% of Vietnam veterans
- 10% of Gulf War veterans
- 11% of Afghanistan war veterans
- 20% of Iraqi war veterans
The general public has become far more sympathetic to the struggles of veterans with PTSD, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set up an excellent online resource for veterans and their families. It can help you understand PTSD better and find health professionals in your community.
Myth #3: PTSD symptoms are similar to depression and anxiety.
Forty million Americans are affected by an anxiety disorder. Sixteen million experience a depressive episode each year. Even if someone has never had a mental illness, they can relate to feelings of overwhelming sadness or anxiety.
Although PTSD can be associated with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, PTSD sufferers have triggers and symptoms that are different than those issues. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following:
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
- Keeping physical distance from where the event occurred
- Mental distance (avoiding thoughts and feelings associated with the event)
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry outbursts
For an official PTSD diagnosis, you must have all of these symptoms for at least one month:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
Myth #4: The therapy treatments for PTSD are the same as they are for anxiety and depression.
Treating PTSD requires different types of therapy than standard anxiety and depression diagnoses. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recommends the following therapy options. (These apply to non-veterans as well.):
- Prolonged exposure – You gradually re-acclimate yourself to feelings and situations that trigger your symptoms.
- Cognitive processing therapy – You work on adjusting the negative thoughts you have about the trauma.
- EDMR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) – You talk about the trauma while paying attention to a back-and-forth visual or sound movement.
- Brief ecletic psychotherapy – You recall details of the trauma while you’re in a relaxed state. Then you write a letter about your experience and perform a ritual to let it go.
- Narrative exposure therapy – You talk through the traumatic experience from start to finish, creating a story. This treatment option works best if you were exposed to traumatic events, like war, over a longer period of time.
- Written narrative exposure – This involves writing about your traumatic experience alone and then discussing it with your therapist.
Myth #5: The medications for PTSD are the same as for anxiety and depression.
The medication approach to anxiety and depression is fairly straightforward:
- Pick an antidepressant with the help of your doctor.
- Wait four to six weeks to see if it works.
- Make dose adjustments or switch to something else if you need to.
Treating PTSD with medications is more complex. There are four antidepressants recommended for PTSD:
- Sertraline (Zoloft®)
- Paroxetine (Paxil®)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor®)
But medication is not considered to be as effective as exposure therapy. Doctors have also recommended much higher doses than what is used for major depression and suggest that it may take up to nine months to see a significant response.
Myth #6: Only medication and therapy are effective at treating PTSD.
The VA has also started to use transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat PTSD in war veterans. This non-invasive treatment works by reconnecting neural pathways that become underactive in people with PTSD. TMS has none of the side effects associated with antidepressant medications and is highly effective. Psychiatrists such as those using it at the VA have seen great success with it.
Success TMS is a national TMS provider with locations across the country, and veterans and their families can access TMS through TRICARE® insurance at any HPR treatment center. You can learn more at SuccessTMS.com.
Non-veterans with PTSD can benefit from TMS treatment as well. While major insurance companies don’t yet cover it, Success TMS can work with you to come up with a convenient payment plan that fits your situation.