There’s a saying that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. This is especially true of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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 PTSD.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for PTSD at VA continually promotes public awareness and understanding of PTSD. In June we ask everyone else to join our efforts.
Our campaign theme this year is “Take the Step,” and we want everyone to take the step during PTSD Awareness Month (and beyond) to challenge their beliefs about PTSD and make sure those beliefs are supported by research.
Greater public awareness of PTSD 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 PTSD treatments that can help allows them to seek needed care. Conversely, lack of information or misinformation can keep people with PTSD from seeking the help they need.
Here are just a couple of examples.
Contrary to what many believe, anyone can develop PTSD: Veterans and non-Veterans, men and women, the very young and the elderly. Seven to eight percent of the U.S. population will have 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. Chances are that someone you know has 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 PTSD and others do not.
Another misconception is that PTSD treatment doesn’t work. Everyone needs to know that there are treatments for PTSD that can help and that treatment is not only for those whose symptoms are severe. Several forms of counseling, such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), have been demonstrated to work for most people with PTSD. CPT, PE, and EMDR are active treatments where 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 (SSRIs), have also been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms.
These therapies and medications 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 of PTSD, its effective treatments, and where to get help. Our Web site, www.ptsd.va.gov, which offers a wealth of information on PTSD, is a great place to start. We encourage you to join us to help people who are living with PTSD—we cannot do it alone. Share what you learn to build awareness and support systems for all who are affected by PTSD.
Dr. Matthew J. Friedman is Executive Director of the US Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Professor of Psychiatry and of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. He has worked with PTSD patients as a clinician and researcher for more than 35 years and has published extensively on stress and PTSD, biological psychiatry, psychopharmacology, and clinical outcome studies on depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and chemical dependency. He has over 200 publications, including 23 books and monographs.