As a person who is open about having PTSD, I encounter a lot of stereotypes on a regular basis. It might not be what this blog is usually about, but I thought it was time to counter some of those stereotypes.
- It’s just veterans
False. It’s true that veterans are a common group among PTSD sufferers, but they’re far from the only one.
- If you’re female – rape has to be the cause
This is a stereotype I’ve encountered a lot. Newsflash, women experience other forms of trauma than sexual ones and sexual traumas can happen to men to. Don’t assume that someone with PTSD has been the victim of a specific kind of trauma, it is unnecessary and can lead to some really awkward moments.
- You can’t live a normal life.
I like to compare PTSD to diabetes, it can be successfully managed, but if you don’t manage it, it can kill you. Science doesn’t know if PTSD can be fully cured or not yet, but a lot of people are very high functioning. I was about to say that my life is pretty normal, but then I realised that my life is pretty unusual. That’s not really because of PTSD though, I’m just a bit weird.
- People with PTSD are violent.
Anger is a symptom of PTSD, one that people don’t always expect (especially from female sufferers). However, it seldom translates to violence. At worst, I’ve punched a wall in frustration. I’ve yelled at people and said some horrible things, but I’ve never become physically violent. I’d never physically harm someone unless it was in self defence. Many PTSD sufferers never resort to physical violence and there’s no point in being afraid of people with PTSD. We’re all individuals.
- Everyone needs heavy medication
Medication works great for some people. Others use other forms of treatment. I personally don’t use medication as I’ve never found it helpful, same thing with therapy. I manage mine pretty well except for having sleep issues. It takes some pretty significant incidents to cause it to temporarily get out of control.
- You must have been physically hurt.
False. PTSD can develop from watching another person die or get hurt, from failing to save someone, from things like psychological abuse… There’s a lot of different kinds of trauma.
- Everyone uses drugs or alcohol.
Self-medicating is pretty common, but far from everyone uses drugs or alcohol in an abusive way. I don’t go near drugs, my brain is weird enough as it is. I drink socially, sometimes a bit too much like most university students do, but I don’t have an addiction or use alcohol to cope. People manage in different ways. A really common thing to abuse is food, mainly because we all have to eat and therefor it’s easy to turn to it for comfort. I don’t self medicate, but I’m a bit of a workaholic if that counts.
- People with PTSD can’t work.
I have four jobs and am negotiating about a fifth possibility. I study full time and have completed a bachelors degree. Some people can’t work at all, some can work part time, some can work full time. There might be a time when I will need to take time off work, but so far it’s going pretty well.
- People with PTSD are unreliable
I’d say the general population is pretty unreliable to be honest. This is a phrase I’ve heard a lot and I guess it means ‘unpredictable’ rather than ‘unreliable’. I think what this refers to is that people sometimes respond to triggers that others aren’t aware of. Triggers can be anything from a loud bang to a specific date to seeing a certain person. They’re difficult for others to identify. If you know someone with PTSD and can’t figure them out, ask if there’s any specific triggers they want you to be aware about. Do it respectfully though. Oh, and when someone has said “please don’t do this, it’s one of my triggers”, please for the love of everything holy, respect that request.
- They should be left alone.
Another symptom of PTSD is the tendency to isolate yourself from the outside world. The problem is that it actually makes it worse. The stigma of PTSD is pretty severe and that’s another reason why people isolate themselves. Not to mention that PTSD can be really embarrassing. Try to invite someone along even if you know they have PTSD. Chances are it will be perfectly fine. If something does go wrong, try to be understanding. People with PTSD know they have it and after a flashback or other incident, they know exactly how out of character their behaviour was. Trust me, it’s always worse on this side.
- There can only be one trauma.
Nope. A person can have multi-trauma PTSD, some of us have just had a lot of bad luck in life and it ends up sticking with us. Just because you got PTSD from being a victim of domestic violence doesn’t mean you can’t also get PTSD from a car accident.
- All triggers are the same.
There’s a scale. Some are easy to manage and lose control as you learn to handle them. Sure, you need to keep them in mind and use some psychological techniques to deal with them, but you can be exposed to them and still be fine. Others are far worse. More extreme situations are often more triggering than everyday ones, at least for me. There’s also the factor of control. The less control I have over a triggering event, the less I’m able to do about it… The worse it is.
- “Just get over it”
Mate, if I could, I would have done so already. What happens when you develop PTSD as a response to trauma, is that your brain physically rewires itself. Saying “just get over it” is like asking someone to shrink their brain tumour with positive thinking. It would be great if it could be done, but it’s actually impossible.
- People with PTSD are stupid.
This is a misinterpretation about some research results regarding PTSD. A high IQ is a good defence against developing PTSD, but it doesn’t make you immune. I actually believed this stereotype and believed I had to have a lower than average IQ… Then I got tested and found out that’s not true. PTSD really can happen to anyone regardless of their IQ, it’s just that having a high IQ decreases the chances of developing PTSD.
- People with PTSD can’t have fun.
Having a mental illness does not make you immune to jokes. It doesn’t steal away all your enjoyment. There’s still plenty of enjoyable and fun things in the world for us to enjoy, it might just be a bit more difficult getting there because there’s a few more obstacles in our way.