It starts with a discussion
Most individuals dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have either dealt with self-stigma (their own thoughts regarding their situation) or external stigmas (culture as a whole or other individual's perceptions of mental health). They might have been told "you will get over it, it is just a phase," or that "it is just in your head, you're fine." But the truth is, PTSD causes physical changes in brain structure and alters the function of the brain. The stigmas associated with PTSD, and other mental health conditions, can act as barriers that keep people from seeking the help they need.
Because the stigmas are deeply ingrained in our culture and history, it is going to take more than a top-down approach from the government or Department of Veteran's Affairs, though they are trying. It takes passionate and open individuals, such as you reading this page, to reach out to your local community to make changes. You have a network of people to whom you are connected to that you are able to educate and influence in a way that a government organization can't. By becoming educated on the topics and learning methods for initiating these conversations you can help combat the stigma and make the world a little more open and receptive. If enough people step forward and work to reach their communities, real change can happen in our lifetime.
Self-stigmas relate to feelings of being personally damaged or broken because of a condition or situation, in this case, the condition of PTSD or the situation that caused it. If someone is dealing with degrading or belittling thoughts directed inward they might be less likely to seek the help they need of other professionals. Individuals might also blame themselves for their current situation due to this self-stigmas as well. A big part of combating self-stigmas is to directly challenge these thoughts which can be done in working with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) professionals or using one of the methods below.
Educate yourself and others. Understand what is happening in your body and be able to explain it to others who might not know.
Encourage equality between physical and mental illnesses. Because it is well researched and documented that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorder, and depression cause physiological changes in the structure and function of the brain, they should be on the same level as physical ailments. If you are willing to see a doctor about a pain in your shoulder you should be willing to see a doctor about changes to your mood. It starts with education.
Choose empowerment over shame. Be willing to stand up and say "I AM IN CONTROL!" and take the steps needed to move forward. You are much stronger than you realize and we are here to support you as well.
Be honest about what you are going through and doing. By being honest about how things make you feel or that you are seeking help and treatment, it can help strengthen you. When you hold things inside it can cause feelings of shame as if you have to hide part of who you are.
Live your life! Don't let your mental health have more control over your life than it needs. You are more than your diagnosis, more than your symptoms. You are amazing, and you can still go out and live! Get outside, see friends, explore, go on adventures, read that book, take that trip, pet that dog, be you. When you need to take a step back just be honest about it, but don't limit who you are out of fear.
Combating the Stigma
There have been leaps and bounds in the disarming of stigmas against mental health issues overall, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder appears to be far behind in being accepted and understood as depression or anxiety, which are still fighting the uphill battle against erroneous stigmas as well. There are a number of things you can do to help change the culture of your local community, but it all comes down to your willingness to reach out to your networks and relationships. Here are a few methods you can use to combat the stigma of mental health and specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Educate yourself about mental health and understand what changes are happening when someone experiences these symptoms. A great place to start is by signing up for our newsletter (see footer) which will send you blog posts and a summary of research every month. Educating yourself also includes knowing the resources available that individuals can seek.
Become self-aware of your attitudes, thinking, and how you respond to mental health. Take time to really assess your own thoughts and the image you project to people who are looking for support.
Be careful about how you speak. Be aware of the words you choose to use when someone comes to you for support, or they are showing signs that they might be struggling.
Educate others. Take the knowledge that you learn and pass it on to friends, family, co-workers or anyone in your network. Be the light in the darkness.
See the big picture. Someone might be struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but that isn't who they are. There is much more to them than a diagnosis. See the positives as well.
Be open, supportive, and accepting. Treat everyone with dignity and be willing to listen without judgment. Sometimes offering an ear and a shoulder can do more than you think.
Encourage equality between physical and mental illnesses. Understanding the physical changes in the body due to mental illnesses can help others see it more as a physical problem as well as a mental illness.
Talk openly about mental health. If you want to see a change in the world it starts with relationships. Get comfortable being open about the topic. It is a tough one to talk about, but it can open opportunities for change when you do.
Greenstein, L. (2017, October 11). 9 Ways To Fight Mental Health Stigma. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/october-2017/9-ways-to-fight-mental-health-stigma
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/23442.
Yanos, P. T., Lucksted, A., Drapalski, A. L., Roe, D., & Lysaker, P. (2015). Interventions targeting mental health self-stigma: A review and comparison. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 38(2), 171–178. https://doi.org/10.1037/prj0000100