Stigma associated with PTSD: perceptions of treatment seeking combat veterans

Dinesh Mittal, Karen L Drummond, Dean Blevins, Geoffrey Curran, Patrick Corrigan, Greer Sullivan
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 2013, 36 (2): 86-92

OBJECTIVE: Although stigma associated with serious mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and depression has been studied very little is known about stigma associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This study explored stigma related to PTSD among treatment-seeking Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) combat veterans.

METHOD: Sixteen treatment-seeking OEF/OIF veterans with combat-related PTSD participated in focus groups. We used qualitative methods to explore PTSD-related stigma.

RESULTS: Common perceived stereotypes of treatment-seeking veterans with PTSD included labels such as "dangerous/violent," or "crazy," and a belief that combat veterans are responsible for having PTSD. Most participants reported avoiding treatment early on to circumvent a label of mental illness. Participants initially reported experiencing some degree of self-stigma; however, following engagement in treatment they predominantly resisted these stereotypes. Although most participants considered combat-related PTSD as less stigmatizing than other mental illnesses, they reported difficulties with reintegration. Such challenges likely stem from both PTSD symptoms and veterans' perceptions of how the public views them. Most reported that fellow combat veterans best understood them.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Awareness of public stereotypes impacts help seeking at least early in the course of illness. Peer-based outreach and therapy groups may help veterans engage in treatment early and resist stigma.

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