In 2010 the United States Senate designated June 27 National PTSD Awareness Day. While it isn’t a day to necessarily “Celebrate”, it is a day to take note of. As we move to understand more about mental illnesses, PTSD still seems to be one that people make a lot of assumptions about rather than studying the truth about this diagnosis and those who live with it every day.
PTSD – which stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – is most commonly identified in the media as a soldier’s diagnosis. This is reinforced by the misconception that PTSD is directly linked to what a person would see in combat, and nothing else. The general public supports this idea and this single misunderstanding can limit the attention and treatment of people who suffer trauma not related to war.
The numbers say it all. Taking the highest estimated number from the National Center for PTSD, approximately 11-20% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, which would put the highest number around 500,000. In comparison, the number of adults dealing with PTSD at any given time in the US is roughly 8 million, or about 8% of the population.
One thing that makes understanding PTSD so difficult is understanding what constitutes trauma to an individual. At the early stages of the research into PTSD, they discovered that the response from sufferers from combat was the same response seen in women who suffered a sexual assault. This realization helped to broaden the scope in which trauma was studied.
Sadly, 10 out of 100 women will develop PTSD in their lifetime, compared to 4 out of 100 men. It is not a sign of weakness that those numbers are higher, but it is related to the fact that women are much more likely to be the victim of child abuse, sexual assault, or domestic abuse in their lifetime than their male counterparts. It needs to be said though that anyone can suffer from a traumatic event.
For some people, acknowledging that they are dealing with PTSD can be difficult because of the misconceptions and stigma related to it. Sometimes it takes sitting with a professional and outlining your symptoms before you realize that PTSD is what you’re dealing with. That’s how it was for me.
Without getting into the gritty details, I went through a traumatic event that involved my son and spanned almost exactly two years. What I went through during those two years impacted every part of my life – my marriage, my personal relationships, my job, my sleep. In the end we survived, and an unrealistic part of my brain thought that once it was over everything would switch back to “normal”.
When I was still dealing with paranoia, insomnia, and fits of tears months later and told my therapist I couldn’t figure out why I thought she might laugh. “You do know what PTSD is, right?” Of course I did. Everyone has heard of PTSD. I just didn’t know how I was supposed to make a diagnosis like that fit me.
But it does fit me. When I break it down and get really honest with myself about what I went through, there were days that trauma didn’t even feel like a strong enough word. What I went through wasn’t a death. It wasn’t a war zone. Other people have gone through the same event and made it out without debilitating triggers that last months, or in this case years. But, like beautiful little snowflakes, our means of dealing with trauma vary from person to person.
If you take away anything while observing today as National PTSD Awareness Day, I would hope that it be that lesson. The lesson that trauma happens to everyone in varying degrees, and to be respectful of that trauma if someone opens up to you. Understand that something that you think you could have handled might have been more than that personal was emotionally equipped to deal with. And remember that PTSD is real even if the person was never in combat.
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