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Dispelling Myths About Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

picture of service member using virtual reality headset

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Renae Kleckner/Released

Combat brings the possibility of losing close friends, bodily harm, exposure to terrifying events, and extended separation from loved ones. As many as 30 percent of service members redeploying from Iraq and Afghanistan can experience stress reactions associated with these situations.1 Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also develop, however, the facts and fiction about PTSD are sometimes hard to tell apart.

While service members may experience stress reactions resulting from a combat deployment, they are not necessarily an indication of PTSD. Common symptoms associated with both combat stress and PTSD, like nightmares, increased anxiety, and reliving the event, could result in a diagnosis of PTSD if there is no noticeable improvement during a short-term period.2 PTSD is a psychiatric condition that requires long-term treatment to deal with symptoms.2

Many service members who experience PTSD can benefit from treatment and support, but some fear that they may be considered weak or that peers might lose confidence in their abilities. This is due, in part, to the perception that some service members have about seeking help, as well as the myths surrounding PTSD. Knowing the truth about PTSD can make a real difference in the lives of those who need support. This article debunks some of the common myths about PTSD.

Five Myths and Facts about PTSD

  • Myth: I cannot get or maintain my security clearance if I am diagnosed with PTSD.
    Fact: Getting treatment for PTSD is not necessarily a threat to an individual’s security clearance. In fact, mental health counseling can be a positive factor in the clearance process.3 Army records show that 99.98 percent of cases with psychological concerns obtained/retained their security clearance.4 Additionally, service members are not required to report some treatments, including those for PTSD, they received due to service in the military when they apply for a security clearance.5 Factors that could result in clearance refusal include not meeting financial obligations, criminal actions or engaging in activities benefiting a foreign nation.3
  • Myth: My military career will end if I am diagnosed with PTSD.
    Fact: Being diagnosed with PTSD in and of itself does not end your military career. There are plenty of examples where service members have sought treatment for various psychological health concerns, including PTSD, and it did not put their careers in jeopardy. In fact, a failure to seek treatment can lead to a more serious psychological condition, and could eventually prevent someone from carrying out some sensitive tasks.4 Seeking support to address psychological health concerns shows inner strength and is commonly looked on favorably. Check out these video profiles of some service members who have received treatment for psychological health concerns and continue to fulfill their regular duties in uniform, as well as veterans who sought care and continue to serve the military community as civilians.
  • Myth: Service members only experience PTSD symptoms immediately following combat or a traumatic event.
    Fact: Symptoms associated with PTSD usually occur within three months after the traumatic event6, but symptoms may not appear until six months, or even years later.7 The types of symptoms can be broken down into four categories: hyperarousal (feeling “keyed up”), avoidance (avoiding reminders of the event), intrusion (reliving the event), and feeling numb or detached.8 Nightmares, one of the most common symptoms, are experienced by 71-96 percent of those with PTSD.9 Reaching out for care is an important step since symptoms, such as nightmares, may lessen or disappear and then re-appear later in life. Early intervention can provide the right coping tools to deal with these symptoms, and sometimes even prevent development of chronic PTSD. Visit the National Center for PTSD to learn more about the types of symptoms associated with PTSD.
  • Myth: Service members can never fully recover from PTSD.
    Fact: Successful treatment and positive outcome are greatly enhanced by early intervention. With therapy, and in some cases medication, the symptoms of PTSD can be greatly reduced, even eliminated.6 Treatment can help you feel more in control and teach effective coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations when they arise. There are many types of treatment; your medical provider can help you determine which one is best. You can also contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 at 866-966-1020 where highly trained professionals can answer questions and connect you with local resources for support.
  • Myth: PTSD is a sign of weakness in character.
    Fact:  PTSD is a common human reaction to very traumatic situations. PTSD seems to be due to complex chemical changes in the brain when an individual witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. The symptoms of PTSD appear to be frequently experienced in situations where someone perceives they have been exposed to a life-threatening event, although symptoms and reactions vary from person to person.10 As a service member dealing with PTSD symptoms, seeking help demonstrates strength and will provide benefits to yourself, your family, your unit, and your service. Do not hesitate to seek care – PTSD is treatable and reaching out early often leads to the best outcomes.7

Many service members have sought help and continue serving in the military, as shown in these videos. Knowing the facts about PTSD can help you overcome concerns you may have. Visit the following web sites to get additional information and resources on PTSD:

Sources

1 Carden, Michael J., Sgt. 1st Class. “Army Works to Expand Combat Stress Detection,” American Forces Press Service. Published July 22, 2010.
2 Combat Stress for Medical Providers [PDF 2.3 MB], Deployment Health Clinical Center, Department of Defense. Published August 2006.
3 Implementation of Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information [PDF 1.1 MB], Department of Defense. Published August 30, 2006.
4 Haire, Tamara. “Financial Problems or PTSD Need Not Affect Security Clearance,” Army News Service. Published July 8, 2009.
5 Miles, Donna. “Gates Works to Reduce Mental Health Stigma,” American Forces Press Service. Published May 1, 2008.
6TBI and PTSD Quick Facts [PDF 28.7 KB],” Deployment Health Clinical Center, Department of Defense. Last accessed June 14, 2013.
7 Pueschel, Matt. “Combat Exposure Raises PTSD, Smoking, Alcohol Abuse Risks,” Force Health Protection & Readiness, Department of Defense. Published May 22, 2009.
8What is PTSD?,” National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed June 14, 2013.
9Nightmares & PTSD,” National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed June 14, 2013.
10 Stress & Trauma, Fact Sheets: A Normal Reaction to an Abnormal Situation, Deployment Health Clinical Center, Department of Defense. Last accessed June 14, 2013.

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Last Reviewed: 06/14/13
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