People often will flippantly say things like “that’s so OCD,” “that’s so triggering” or “now I have PTSD” as a way of describing normal feelings we all have from time to time. For those of us who legitimately struggle with these diagnoses, it feels extremely dismissive to hear others toss these terms around meaninglessly and it only serves to perpetuate the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding what these terms actually mean.
I recently heard a broadcaster say she had “debate PTSD” over and over again. I was so angry that I not only posted my disdain on social media but sent a message to the show trying to explain why I found it offensive. I not only didn’t get a reply, but she continued using the phrase several more times.
It’s hard enough to constantly be asked if I served in the military when I tell people I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s not because veterans aren’t at a higher risk for developing PTSD, but because it suggests other forms of trauma — like sexual abuse, rape, domestic abuse or medical diagnosis — are invalid or cannot possibly lead to PTSD.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Any kind of trauma can cause PTSD, including experiencing the trauma of someone else secondhand. While not everyone who has experienced trauma will get PTSD, those who do will experience a multitude of life-altering symptoms which may require extensive therapy and medication to manage and heal.
These symptoms go beyond anxiety. Many who struggle with PTSD will experience depression, self-harm, addiction, eating disorders, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, somatic memories and a higher likelihood of chronic pain and disease. The symptoms can range from minor to debilitating and, sadly, many succumb to the symptoms by ending their lives. To reduce these symptoms to an expression of anxiety is not only flippant but damaging to those who fight every day to stay alive.
So, the next time you overhear someone joke about getting PTSD from something, please don’t laugh along. Please be an advocate for the rest of us who struggle to be seen and heard. Gently remind them that while they may legitimately feel stressed about something, that stress doesn’t equate to the trauma so many have endured and have to struggle to cope with every single day.