PTSD Stigma: Why It Occurs and Tips for Overcoming Barriers to Care

PTSD trauma therapy long beach

Stigma is “a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses.” (9)

People with PTSD are often depicted as dangerous, unpredictable, incompetent, or to blame for their illness. People with PTSD can feel stigma from others and experience self-stigma.

Military service personnel may fear that talking about their illness will hurt their careers, or they will be viewed by others in their unit as weak or unable to protect them, for example.

According to a study published in June 2013 in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, combat veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom who sought treatment for PTSD reported faced common perceived stereotypes of veterans seeking treatment, including labels such as “crazy,” and “dangerous or violent,” and were made to believe they were responsible for their diagnoses. Most of the study participants also reported that they initially avoided seeking treatment to avoid the “mental illness” label. (10)

“It reinforces to the individual with PTSD that they’re weak or that there’s something wrong with them and that really feeds that shame,” according to Pole. “In fact, people who have been through trauma are some of the strongest individuals I’ve ever worked with.”

What Are the Most Common Comorbidities of PTSD?

People with PTSD, especially those who have experienced repeated trauma, can develop other mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and even other physical ailments, such as chronic pain. (11,12) “If someone already had a vulnerability to develop a mood disorder, experiencing trauma could really trigger a full-blown major depressive episode,” Pole says.

Substance use disorders, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and neurocognitive disorders (NCDs) are also common comorbidities of PTSD.

The Risk Factors for PTSD-Related Suicide

A report by The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found the risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among veterans than civilians in the United States. (13) And another study in the Annals of Epidemiology found veterans who were on active duty during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had a 41 to 61 percent higher risk of suicide than the general population. Another interesting takeaway from the study: Deployment wasn’t associated with an increased risk of suicide. In fact, deployed vets had a lower risk of suicide than nondeployed vets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while women attempt suicide more frequently, men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Fortunately, with treatment, suicidal thoughts among people with PTSD decreases.

What Are the Best Treatments and Therapies for PTSD?

Medical professionals say self-education is the first step toward identifying a proper treatment plan. There’s an emotional benefit to reading up on PTSD as well: “When they understand what they’re experiencing is normal within the circumstances they have been through, there’s a real relief in that,” Pole says.

There are several effective treatments available for PTSD. They include exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

The Best Resources for Patients and Families Who Are Facing PTSD

A number of organizations, advocacy groups, blogs, and other online resources can provide advice, information, and even financial assistance to individuals affected by PTSD.

For instance, if you’re in the military or are a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a National Center for PTSD that provides a rundown of PTSD information for patients and families. For those individuals who aren’t in the military, you can turn to the National Institute of Mental Health PTSD page for information on symptoms, treatment options, and modes for getting help.

By Everyday Health Magazine