11 Things People With PTSD Want You To Know

For starters, it doesn't just affect veterans.

02/26/2016 07:51 am ET | Updated Feb 26, 2016

Everyone goes through moments of fear, but for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, terror has a way of taking on a life of its own.

People with PTSD have often undergone situations that most people can't even begin to fathom. While everyone recovers from trauma differently, those with PTSD tend to have lingering stress that interferes with their everyday lives. It's as if their "fight or flight" response never shuts off. As a result, they're forced to make adjustments to their daily routines.

Sounds miserable, right? Unfortunately, that's just the beginning. PTSD is a complex condition that many don't understand. Below are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to the mental health disorder:

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1. You don't have to be a veteran to have PTSD.

The disorder can develop after a traumatic event, like witnessing or experiencing sexual assault, violence or death. It is estimated that 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience one traumatic event at some point in their lives, although that doesn't necessarily mean they will develop PTSD.

The condition is most commonly linked with war veterans, who while active were likely surrounded by scarring situations quite regularly. It is expected that between 11 and 20 percent of vets who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD in a given year.

2. The time it takes for the condition to develop varies.

Sometimes symptoms don't show up right away. There are two types of PTSD, according to researchers. There's short-term or acute, from which a person can recover after a few months, and chronic or ongoing, where symptoms tend to persist throughout a longer period of time. 

3. At its worst, PTSD can lead to suicide.

One of the horrible side effects of any mental illness is a risk for harmful or suicidal thoughts. It is believed that both deployed and non-deployed veterans have a higher risk for suicide than the general U.S. population.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

4. It's not totally unheard of to have PTSD.

Nearly 8 million American adults suffer from PTSD in a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, about 8 percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

5. The symptoms are all-consuming.

The effects of PTSD aren't just emotional. The condition been associated with physical issues, like poor cardiovascular health and gastrointestinal problems. It's also classified by paralyzing episodes of fear, avoidance of situations that trigger those fears and mood changes like extreme guilt, worry or loss of motivation.

6. There's a huge stigma surrounding the condition.

Like most mental illnesses, people with PTSD are often plagued by negative stereotypes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only 25 percent of people with mental illness feel like others are understanding about their condition. This is a huge problem since stigma often prevents people from seeking proper treatment.

7. It's not a punchline.

Using mental illnesses in a colloquial manner or as a joke only perpetuates incorrect perceptions. Think twice before you claim a stressful day at work or an uncomfortable argument "gave you PTSD."

8. Remedies for PTSD vary depending on the person.

Mental illness isn't one-size-fits-all, and neither is the treatment. People with PTSD will likely have to try different therapies, medications or other techniques in order to find what works best for them. 

9. It's not "all in their head."

The mind is the most complex organ in the body, and related illnesses should be treated as such. Research shows that traumatic stress impacts regions in the brain. In other words, the condition is not something a person can just "get over" or an attitude they adopt just to seek attention.

10. The triggers aren't universal.

Because PTSD stems from different traumatic experiences, the triggers that aggravate the condition and prompt flashbacks to the event aren't going to be the same for everyone. While the condition is manageable, there's always a chance that a person on the street, a sound in the grocery store or even a comment from a relative can provoke a paralyzing fear. It's a hard reality to deal with on a regular basis.

11. It's possible to live a healthy, productive life with PTSD.

Just because someone has PTSD doesn't mean they're unable to function or live fulfilling lives. Once again, the right treatment is necessary. Like cancer or the flu, an illness is just an aspect of someone's reality; a piece to a whole puzzle. Their illness does not define them -- and that's the most important thing to remember.


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