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Dispelling Myths About Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

soliders standing at dusk

U.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. Jason Uhlig

You may have traumatic experiences during your military career. These can happen on deployment, in training or even at home. When warriors experience trauma, on or off the battlefield, they often have periods of anger, trouble sleeping, nightmares, intrusive memories, sadness and more. If these concerns continue for more than one month, they may be signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Not everybody who goes through trauma develops PTSD. However, it is one of the most common invisible wounds. Researchers estimate that 10–14 percent of service members who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan have developed PTSD.

It is important to talk to a health care provider if you have or someone you know has any concerns. Treatment helps and getting help is a sign of strength. Despite this—and how common PTSD is—many service members avoid care. Below are five common PTSD myths that may discourage service members from getting help:

Myth: PTSD is always combat-related.
Fact: PTSD can be caused by many types of traumatic experiences. These may include house fires, car accidents and sexual assaults. Service members who experience noncombat trauma might be reluctant to seek care. They might feel their experiences aren’t as severe as combat. However, remember that any perceived threat to your safety can cause PTSD. Reaching out can help you manage your symptoms and feel better.

Myth: Service members can never recover from PTSD.
Fact: Getting help early can significantly improve your symptoms. PTSD can recur, but treatment can make you feel in control and give you tools to cope. You can use the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid to learn about treatment options. Work with a health care professional to make a plan that works for you.

Myth: Service members with PTSD have all of the same symptoms.
Fact: Everybody experiences PTSD differently. There are many possible symptoms. Some service members have nightmares and trouble concentrating. Others relive the event through flashbacks and have intrusive thoughts about their trauma. Working with a health care provider can help you make a custom treatment plan to meet your needs.

Myth: Getting help for PTSD will hurt my ability to get or maintain a security clearance.
Fact: Many military roles require a security clearance. There may be some psychological health concerns that can impair your ability to safeguard classified information and hold a clearance. However, many service members who seek help from a psychological health professional are able to get or maintain a clearance. In fact, “such counseling can be a positive factor in eligibility determinations,” according to Executive Order #12968. Watch these online video profiles as examples of real warriors who have sought care and succeeded.

Myth: Only service members experience PTSD.
Fact: Anyone who faces a traumatic event can develop PTSD. Seven to eight percent of people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. It can affect people of any age, gender, race or income level. Families living with a service member coping with PTSD may also be affected. Children, for example, may mirror the symptoms of their parents or act out in other ways.

If you are experiencing distress as the result of military service or other life stress, know that reaching out is a sign of strength. You can contact the Psychological Health Resource Center to confidentially speak with a trained health resource consultant 24/7, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

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