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.



Photo Credit: Irais Esparza/Wikimedia


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Kitty K.
deanna K2 years ago

Such an important read!

Emma L.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you for this.

Ron Loynes
Ron Loynes2 years ago

No one goes to war without expecting to kill and or have other people try to kill you. It is not a video game. Since there is money in it PTSD is now prevalent. Deal with it should be the norm as it has been from the beginning of time for murder and killing not in self defense.

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn2 years ago

Many thanks to you !

Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

Why PTSD doesn't just effect veterans, it's also everyday people in suburbia, well away from the theatre of war:

Pat P.
Pat P2 years ago

It is a pathetic shame that people who have been physically and/or sexually abused (especially on a continuing basis and in impressionable childhood) are condemned by others when claiming the terrible results of PTSD. For some people their experiences are a living hell that lasts for many years--even an entire childhood. Then they must live with the aftermath and reliving the horror throughout adulthood--with the hope that treatment will alleviate their misery.

For some, it can severely damage their entire lives! The experience is bad enough, but then to have a lack of compassion or understanding from others and even condemnation is inexcusable! We need some serious mental health education in this country, as well as, an improvement in treatment and accessibility!

People don't usually choose to experience trauma. It is not their fault, so they shouldn't be blamed, when they are suffering the results and seeking empathy and assistance. That just compounds the problem and is needlessly, stupid and cruel!

joanne p.
joanne p2 years ago


Fred L.
Fred L2 years ago

Care2 should stop running ads for Tyson Chicken, a serial violator of animal cruelty.

Muff-Anne York-Haley

I was brought up by a mentally ill woman and suffered mental and physical abuse as soon as I was born! I've fought so hard to overcome my upbringing!