Myth #1: PTSD is only seen in people who are weak and unable to cope with difficult situations.
Moral failing or weakness of character is not a prerequisite for any type of illness, whether they’re physical or psychological. Studies show that about half of America will fulfill the criteria for a diagnosable psychological condition at some point in their lives.
Rather, PTSD is caused by an interaction of biological psychological, historical, and social factors, involving brain chemical responses to a traumatic event. Many people go through an adjustment period after experiencing trauma, and some return to leading a normal life. But for others, the trauma marks all aspects of a person’s life: jobs, relationships, and mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For some people, a traumatic event changes their views about themselves and the world around them. This may lead to the development of PTSD.
Myth #2: People with PTSD are violent and unpredictable.
Studies show that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, rather than the perpetrators. While PTSD can increase a person’s hostility and decrease their impulse control, researchers have yet to uncover a link between PTSD and violent behavior.
PTSD is fear-based, not aggression-based. More often, people with PTSD avoid certain activities, environments, and social situations that may trigger flashbacks to a traumatic event. Their intrusive memories can also trigger depression and make them hyper-vigilant to danger and easily startled. Headaches, insomnia, nightmares, depression, frightening thoughts, and short attention spans are also symptoms of PTSD, with hostility and aggressiveness being far less common.
Say you survive a car accident. You spend some time in the hospital, heal physically, and eventually leave. Then one day you’re walking down a street and you hear a car screech to a halt. The sound then triggers the memory of being in the accident: the screeching of brakes, the sensation of being thrown forward, the pain of whiplash or other injuries… you would relive it all. Then you may quit driving and start taking the bus or mooching rides off friends as a means of avoiding triggers. That’s what PTSD is.
Myth #3: PTSD only affects war veterans.
Although PTSD does affect war veterans, fighting in a war and seeing people get blown up are not the only things that can cause debilitating trauma. This illness does not discriminate. Almost 70% of Americans will be exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime, and 20% of those people will have PTSD.
While other traumatic events may seem small-scale compared to wartime, they are not to be dismissed or underestimated. A high rate of PTSD is seen in victims of domestic violence and childhood abuse. If a child is bullied in school, they may develop PTSD symptoms. Other causes include (but are not limited to) witnessing or experiencing a physical injury and being the victim of rape, mugging, robbery, or any other kind of crime. Women are about twice as likely to develop PTSD as men, likely because women experience higher rates of physical abuse and sexual assault.
Myth #4: People with PTSD cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job, and even those who have recovered tend to be second-rate workers.
Here’s one of the many reasons why the mentally ill don’t seek help: they’re afraid of job discrimination. But studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) show that people with mental illnesses are just as productive as other employees. Employers have reported good attendance, punctuality, and good work ethic.
Which isn’t to say PTSD can’t affect one’s performance. It can. There is a chance something may trigger intrusive memories that will distract/debilitate workers with PTSD. But as with many psychological conditions, severity levels may vary widely. Someone with mild to moderate PTSD may be able to push these thoughts aside and keep working.
Besides, any employee is most productive when there are good working conditions and the employer is responsive to their needs. Regardless of illness, work performance is always determined by a balance of internal/external stressors and the individual’s stress tolerance level. Taking a potential employee’s capabilities into account is standard for the hiring process.
Myth #5: Once people develop PTSD, they will never recover.
Studies show that with proper medical care, most people with PTSD and other mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely. Treatments for PTSD depend on the individual, often consisting of a combination of talk therapy and medications.
You can do a great deal to help people with PTSD, starting with how you act and speak. You can create an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes understanding.
- Don’t label people with words like “crazy,” “wacko” or “loony,” or define them by their diagnosis. The illness is not the person. A person has PTSD, not the other way around.
- Treat people with PTSD and other mental illnesses with respect and dignity, just as you would anybody else.
- Learn the facts about mental health and PTSD and share them with others.
- Respect the rights of people with PTSD and other mental illnesses and don’t discriminate against them, especially when it comes to employment. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health problems are protected under federal and state laws.
Additional information about PTSD and employment can be found on the America’s Heroes at Work Web site: www.AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov.
For more information on causes, symptoms, treatments, and resources, head to the National Institute of Mental Health website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
– Särah Nour