The PTSD Stigma: Why PTSD Doesn’t Just Affect Veterans
New research shows that while our awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) increased substantially in the past few decades, our understanding of PTSD has remained fairly low. According to researchers, this has a lot to do with how we portray the illness in the media.
The PTSD study looked at articles published by the New York Times and found that while only 2 articles were published in 1980 — the year PTSD was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — by the time 2014 rolled around, 70 articles mentioned or described the illness. Yet half of those articles focused entirely on PTSD cases in the military. A heavy military bias involving crimes committed by those with PTSD and substance abuse related to the illness was also discovered.
The study states that this dangerous one-sided narrative has the ability to create a picture of PTSD that is “incomplete, inaccurate, and perpetuate PTSD stigma at individual- and institutional-levels.”
Jonathan Purtle, who spearheaded the study, said that our understanding of PTSD as a military-centric issue can permeate into policy. This could be dangerous for the civilian population, which according to Purtle, has a PTSD rate 13 times higher than the military population.
According to DrexelNow, “Occurrences are also much more likely in those who survive non-combat traumas, which include sexual assault (30–80 percent of survivors develop PTSD), nonsexual assault (23–39 percent develop it), disasters (30–40 percent) and car crashes (25–33 percent), among other causes. Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have just a 20 percent occurrence of PTSD.”
PTSD can manifest in a number of ways, including depression and anxiety, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. But many feel hesitant to embrace the term and seek accurate help for themselves because they haven’t fought in a war.
And for women who speak openly about their PTSD, incredible abuse can and often does follow. Melody Hensley caught an enormous amount of online hate when she claimed to be diagnosed with PTSD after suffering sustained harassment through Twitter and cyberstalking. Hensley has been openly lambasted in several articles — asking why she didn’t just close down her computer and insulting her for claiming to have the same illness as war veterans.
Yet it’s well known that cyberbullying and cyberstalking can cause PTSD both in children and in adults. After a number of well publicized suicides and hospitalizations, many states now have laws against cyberbullying and cyberstalking. And while people may argue the particulars of Hensley’s case — she’s not even close to the only woman who’s been criticized for speaking out about her PTSD.
When a number of women launched a #FacesofPTSD Twitter campaign to highlight women living with PTSD, they were broadly condemned. According to one of the organizers, Cissy White, “Some people have criticized us [and said] that we’re ‘starting a gender war. We’re just saying [PTSD] affects men and women and men outside of the military as well as women in the military.”
Our basic misunderstanding of PTSD as a veteran’s disease is not only dangerous, but incredibly expensive. It’s estimated that untreated mental illnesses costs the US economy almost $100 billion dollars every year.
This tragedy can be remedied because there are more options than ever available today. According to the Mayo Clinic a number of psychotherapies such as cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and EMDR therapy can be used to help sufferers regain a feeling of control in their lives. When combined with a variety of medications, it can help patients get back to living a normal, everyday life.
Tackling the stigma and our general misinformation about PTSD and who it affects is an important first step. Researchers at Drexel University say they hope that their new research can help inform public policy moving forward.
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