Six percent of Americans struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), yet many don’t understand its complexities or its severities. With June being PTSD Awareness Month, I thought it would be fitting to dedicate this blog post to providing information about the disorder, including how and why it manifests, how to find help, and cultural stigmas faced by those affected by it.

What is PTSD?

PTSD can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Examples of such events could be sexual assault, natural disasters, severe or long-term abuse, and more. PTSD was originally known for affecting those who have lived through or witnessed war. Traumatized soldiers in World War I were sometimes referred to as being “shell shocked” which we now can recognize as a form of PTSD. According to the American Psychological Association, soldiers affected by “shell shock” would often feel tremors, fatigue, or an inability to move, see, or hear. This would, at times, be brushed off as fear or even cowardice, but today, we can recognize that these were symptoms of PTSD and most definitely not a sign of weakness.

The disorder does not appear in one way; it can look different for everyone. Firstly, it doesn’t always appear immediately after a traumatic event. Some may start experiencing PTSD symptoms days, months, or even years after the event takes place. The severity of symptoms someone may experience may correspond to the extremity of the traumatic episode, but this is not always the case. Symptoms may look like feelings of solitude or grief, intrusive thoughts, mood shifts, physical pain, substance abuse, sleep irregularities, avoidance, and symptoms of anxiety or depression. Furthermore, women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men, and Latino, Black, and Native American people are the ethnic groups most affected by the disorder in the US.

If these symptoms sound like something you or someone you know have been experiencing, it is critical to seek out professional help. A diagnosis of PTSD is given only if a person has been experiencing its symptoms for at least a month.

What does treatment for PTSD look like?

Two of the most common forms of treatment for PTSD are psychotherapy and medication. Some strategies utilized by psychotherapists include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). CBT can involve the utilization of processing techniques to change someone’s approach to negative emotions and beliefs caused by the traumatic event they experienced. Psychotherapists using CBT help their PTSD patients confront their past and set them on a path toward acceptance and growth. CBT practices can include shifting the inner cognitions related to the traumatic event by describing the traumatic event or series of events in great detail or restarting tasks or practices that the person had stopped doing following the event. This may also look like controlled exposure to triggers of PTSD, allowing a person to become more comfortable with what previously caused them fear or stress while maintaining a safe space.

EMDR is another form of therapy that has been proven successful in its use with PTSD patients. Unlike Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR doesn’t involve talking in great detail about the traumatic event. During EMDR therapy, the patient accesses memories of the trauma while using protocols that bilaterally stimulate the brain such as doing specific guided eye movements that mimic those that happen during REM sleep. Bilateral stimulation helps the patient to reprocess their painful memories to become less distressing. EMDR is an incredibly important tool for treating PTSD as well as other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, dissociative identity disorder (DID), personality disorders, and more. EMDR is widely regarded as one of the most effective treatments for PTSD because of its effectiveness but also because compared to other forms of therapy, it works faster and is often less stressful or exhausting for the patient.

Medication is another option for PTSD treatment. Physicians recommend sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine as a form of PTSD treatment as well as antidepressant SSRIs. However, since medications only control the symptoms of PTSD, they are most effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Those affected by PTSD may also find support groups as a helpful way of finding community, connection, and support while being a part of a safe space where they can process their emotions and memories in a healthy way.

Stigma surrounding PTSD

This June, let’s recognize and break down the stigmas surrounding PTSD. Firstly, as with many other mental disorders, people suffering from PTSD may not appear to be struggling physically, leading some to believe that there is nothing really wrong with them. Society still, unfortunately, grapples with the belief that if someone is not visibly struggling, their pain is not real or legitimate. However, when people do visibly suffer from PTSD, some people may perceive those individuals as being more inherently violent or angry. Some may also see them as being damaged or unable to live independently, though this is, of course, not the case for everyone affected by PTSD. In the case of veterans or active service members in the military, a PTSD diagnosis may be perceived as a sign of weakness or cowardice.

Stigmas are dangerous because it can prevent someone from seeking treatment, also known as “self-stigma.” The fear of being labeled as different or unwelcome by society may deter someone from seeking professional help or even addressing the fact that they need support. Self-stigma can lessen someone’s ability to recover due to a lack of inner recognition that they need help in the first place. Turning away from seeking professional help can also lead to unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse, which can worsen the symptoms of PTSD and create other detrimental issues.

Stigma often stems from a lack of understanding of the disorder or a fear of the unfamiliar. This is why it is so critical to stay informed about the issue and work towards raising awareness and spreading information. Government institutions such as the VA and Department of Defense have allocated funds and programs to break down the stigma surrounding PTSD, but as a society, there is still much to do to ensure those with PTSD do not feel a sense of isolation or ostracization.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, it is critical to reach out to medical professionals to seek treatment. For immediate help, call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Hotline. To find treatment options near you, go to for assistance.

Photo by Joice Kelly.