The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder summons the stereotypical image of the shell-shocked war veteran falling to pieces or raging at the slightest provocation. This is what the movies and books of my youth told me — and I totally bought it. So when my son was diagnosed with PTSD at age six, I was understandably shocked.
Over the past six years, I have had to educate teachers, school administration, and even my own family members on what it means to live with PTSD, and what accommodations need to be made for my son. It has been a slow uphill journey.
Nearly 70% of Americans will experience trauma, and approximately 20% of those will develop PTSD. And yet, it remains one of the most misunderstood psychiatric disorders.
Victims of domestic violence and childhood abuse are particularly susceptible to developing PTSD, and women are twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. In children, it can manifest as restlessness, concentration problems, and sleeplessness, among others, and is often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD.
In order to combat some of the confusion around the disorder, the United States Senate declared tomorrow, June 27th as National PTSD Awareness Day, and the entire month of June as PTSD Awareness Month. They are urging the public to get educated and assist in spreading the word.
Due to their efforts, and that of various organizations such as the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network, there has been some reduction in the myths and stigma surrounding PTSD.
Veterans groups have also been active in advancing this cause. An organization called Military with PTSD has created a wealth of information for returning soldiers, their spouses, and the general public. Last year they designed and distributed a lawn sign to alert neighbors to their conditions. As July 4th approaches, these are especially important as fireworks and other loud celebrations can trigger symptoms in those affected by PTSD.
There is no lawn sign yet for non-veterans, like my son, just as there are no instructions, roadmaps, or failproof treatments. For many of us, we are making this up as we go along. We make progress and have setbacks. Both expected and unexpected surprises await us along the way.
We are fortunate in that my son was diagnosed early, and has had amazing care with his play therapist. He has not needed medication and was able to disengage from a situation and person who created and exacerbated his disorder. At age twelve, he is making huge strides in self-confidence and managing his symptoms well when they arise. He is aware of his diagnosis and knows that it may never fully resolve.
When I told him I was writing this post, he said that the most important thing for people to know is that, “I’m just like you. I just get scared sometimes, and need more help. You should know about me that so you can stay calm and know that it gets better.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.