By Matthew J. Friedman
There’s a saying that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. This is especially true of post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is in the headlines now more than ever before. However well intended, sometimes news stories paint an incomplete picture of PTSD and even contribute to misunderstanding and stereotypes. This is why it is critically important to raise awareness of what we really know about the disorder.
Greater public awareness can help reduce the stigma of this mental health problem and overcome the negative stereotypes that keep many people from pursuing treatment.
For those living with PTSD, knowing there are treatments that can help allows them to seek needed care. Conversely, lack of information or misinformation can keep people from seeking the help they need.
Anyone can develop PTSD: veterans and non-veterans, men and women, the very young and the elderly. Seven percent to 8 percent of the U.S. population will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives – that’s up to 25 million people, based on current U.S. population estimates, and many more are affected by a loved one’s PTSD.
Although most people exposed to trauma experience stress reactions, the majority are resilient. Many do not develop PTSD. Mental health experts are not sure why some people develop it and others do not.
Another misconception is that treatment doesn’t work. Everyone needs to know that there are treatments that can help and that treatment is not only for those whose symptoms are severe. Several forms of counseling, such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, have been demonstrated to work for most people with PTSD.
Those are active treatments in which the patient and therapist work together to develop skills to deal with difficult thoughts and feelings. Sessions are goal-oriented. Several types of medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have also been shown to reduce symptoms.
These approaches have the best evidence as effective treatments for PTSD, supported by many years of research by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others.
For anyone affected by PTSD – you, a member of your family or a friend – it is essential to know the symptoms, effective treatments and where to get help. Our website, www.ptsd.va.gov, which offers a wealth of information, is a great place to start.
We encourage you to join us to help people who are living with PTSD. Share what you learn to build awareness and support systems for all who are affected by it.
Matthew J. Friedman, M.D. is executive director of the National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.