Treating PTSD early can literally be life-saving.
Mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often subtle in the beginning. As time passes, your life bends more and more to the disorder, until it’s hard to do basic things like succeed at work, care for your family, and nurture your friendships. This is why treating PTSD early is so important, including for veterans.
“If someone thinks that they may have some symptoms of PTSD or really any difficulty readjusting to the civilian world, I really encourage them to speak to a mental health provider who can then connect them to the type of care that they would most benefit from,” says Amanda M. Spray, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone Health.
Risks of Delaying Treatment
You might feel like your symptoms “aren’t bad enough” to seek treatment, but treating PTSD early can prevent the disorder from progressing. In the beginning, you may feel like you can tolerate the symptoms without help. However, as symptoms of PTSD worsen, they may begin to control your life.
For example, many veterans with PTSD control their symptoms by avoiding their triggers. At first, this may feel like an easy solution to prevent flashbacks or other unwanted symptoms. However, this is not a long-term solution, and it can result in your world becoming “smaller and smaller,” says Dr. Spray, as you avoid places, people, and things.
As PTSD worsens, it may also shake your support system. “Relationships often struggle considerably as a result of struggling with PTSD,” says Dr. Spray. You may withdraw from your loved ones or have trouble fulfilling your role as a parent, spouse, or friend.
Why Veterans Delay Treatment
It’s not unusual for veterans—or anyone, really—to have reasons why they think they shouldn’t go to treatment.
“I can’t afford it.”
There are many mental health services available to veterans for free. Access your local Veterans Affairs location to find what PTSD treatment options are available for you.
“It doesn’t work with my schedule.”
To accommodate different schedules, you can find mental health support for PTSD at different times of day—even in the evening.
“I don’t want to talk about my trauma.”
“Talking about one's trauma can be terrifying, and I think many individuals think, 'I don't want to go there. I don't want to open up that box of memories,’” says Dr. Spray. “Then they avoid coming into treatment, when actually, many of our therapies don't require one to directly speak about the trauma.”
“I can fix this by myself.”
“We often hear the myth that individuals with PTSD should be able to [get over it], especially in the military, using willpower and strength alone,” says Dr. Spray. “Adequate treatment for PTSD requires medical intervention [and] psychotherapy intervention.”
“My PTSD isn’t that bad.”
There’s no such thing as treating PTSD too early. As mentioned before, the more you delay treatment, the worse symptoms can become. Treating PTSD early is easier than treating it once symptoms become severe and engrained.
Additionally, coping with your symptoms on your own often leads to habits that are “counterproductive and harmful,” says Dr. Spray. For example, untreated PTSD may increase the risk of substance use disorder and suicide.
Ready to get help? Find out how PTSD is treated here, and learn more about medications used to treat PTSD here.
Amanda M. Spray, PhD, is a psychologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City and a clinical associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
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(acoustic guitar music)
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If someone thinks that they may have
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of PTSD or really any difficulty
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readjusting to the civilian world,
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I really encourage them to speak
to a mental health provider
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who can then connect them to the type of care
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that they would most benefit from.
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(acoustic guitar music)
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The big risk of not getting medical treatment
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is the severity of one's symptoms.
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The symptoms can become more severe over time.
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One's world can become smaller and smaller
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due to the avoidance that's associated
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with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Oftentimes relationships often struggle considerably
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as a result of struggling with PTSD.
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I think those are the biggest consequences
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of not accessing care quickly.
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There are many factors that may influence someone
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to delay getting treatment for PTSD.
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I think one is concern of the barriers to getting care.
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So sometimes individuals are afraid it will be very costly
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or it will interfere with their work schedule.
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It's very important to consider that now really
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there is more than ever treatment available.
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Oftentimes in the evening, oftentimes free of charge.
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But sometimes those are barriers to someone
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getting in for care.
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There are also a lot of misconceptions
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around psychotherapies for treatment of trauma.
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I think many individuals think that every form
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that they will have to talk about their trauma,
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and oftentimes there's a lot of avoidance
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involved in PTSD, and so the idea
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of talking about one's trauma can be terrifying,
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and I think many individuals think, 'I don't want to go there.'
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'I don't want to open up that box of memories.'
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And then they avoid coming in to treatment,
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when actually, many of our therapies don't require
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one to directly speak about the trauma.
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We often hear the myth that individuals with PTSD
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should be able to quote-unquote get over it,
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using, especially in the military,
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using willpower and strength alone.
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And really what most of the research indicates
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is it's not the case, and really, adequate treatment
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of PTSD requires medical intervention,
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requires psychotherapy intervention.
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I think it would be wonderful if someone could
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sort of grin and bear it, and change their experience
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but that's not how this condition works,
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and can oftentimes make it much worse
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and can lead to substance use disorder,
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can lead to looking for other ways to cope
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with the anxiety of the condition,
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in ways that can be counterproductive and harmful.
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