Is PTSD a mental illness?

02 Aug

The subject of this blog says it all really; is PTSD a mental illness? I’ll set out by saying I’m not too sure of the answer. This morning I was adamant that my problems aren’t a mental illness (and I can only speak of my PTSD, so please don’t take offence at anything I write). However after being called obstinant and always think I’m right by my psychiatrist, I’m opening my mind to other answers.

This is my original stance. Before the 2 years of pretty much continual trauma, I was ok. I was living quite a decent life and moving in the direction I wanted to be going and then I got in with a bad bunch for people and, well, you know the rest! And then we have the after effects, the fact that I’m openly not coping very well with what happened to me and I struggle on a daily basis to even function at a low level (in terms of not going out, not seeing people, not eating properly etc). To me though, this is because of what happened and therefore is me struggling with life events, not suffering from a mental illness.

And then we have the other side of the argument. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, it’s an illness in the ICD 10 (the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organisation). As a side note, some countries use the DSM IV (or V). There is a overwhelming amount of evidence that says when you suffer from PTSD, the areas of your brain actually become more/less active than before – just like with depression. So surely with this amount of evidence, it should be easy to answer my original question and say of course it is; it’s an illness and also to do with the brain and so therefore classed as a mental illness.

The problem I have here, is one of those arguments is based in science and other in life – if I hadn’t have had my trauma, I wouldn’t be asking this question. But it’s the same with the depression element of my diagnosis. It isn’t an organic depression (ie, it’s not come about on its own), it is based on social circumstances and if I didn’t have PTSD, I wouldn’t have depression either and so it’s the same question – is that depression mental illness or just not reacting well with the way my life has gone?

I had this conversation with my care co-ordinator as she said I am poorly and if I asked 20 lay people if I had a mental illness they would say yes. And so I took to twitter and actually, some people said no, I didn’t. Which begs the next question. If PTSD is a mental illness, why don’t people recognise it as such? And these were people who have either an interest in or illnesses themselves by the way!

So is PTSD a highly stigmatised diagnosis in the mental health field? I’ve got a feeling that I’m not helping my cause by saying I’m just reacting badly to a situation and not giving my diagnosis the respect I should. But by doing that and accepting something is actually mentally wrong with me, I think I’m giving up control of something I’m not quite ready to do yet. Is this having a detrimental effect on my treatment and life? I’m really not sure!

Sorry if I’ve not expressed myself very well, as always I write as I think and don’t edit to make sure I don’t lose the point I’m trying to make.

I’d be interested to hear other viewpoints on this.


Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


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37 responses to “Is PTSD a mental illness?

  1. Dee Speers (@JoinedU1)

    August 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I have a friend with OCD and she says “If my son presented with mental illness, I would think twice about recommending services” “Services can make you really ill”
    Friend says “I was diagnosed with OCD and to be honest…I found recovery easier when I took control back and accepted I am who I am and not just a diagnosis” she added “I look after myself and accept I’ll have bad days but I also recognise the triggers more easily and have learned how to deal with it”
    Hope this helps x

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      I think that’s true. I do wonder if I hadn’t been involved with services where I’d be now – but who knows if I’d be worse or better?

  2. neowatercolour

    August 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I’ve seen PTSD called a “psychiatric injury” rather than a mental illness, which to me reflects the origin of the “condition” and is a big distinction I think, from a “mental illness” . I found this factsheet very helpful, from “Medical Whistleblower”, run by a Veterinarian
    hope it helps. x

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      That’s so true, thanks for that link too 🙂 x

    • thelionthatroared

      August 3, 2013 at 12:29 am

      Hi, I was going to say that I suppose PTSD is an illness in that it impairs your functional living (it does to me) but this comment reminded me that I have been given the PTSD label resulting from a workplace injury (assault and stalking) and this is indeed called a ‘Psychiatric Injury’ by WorkSafe, the insurance company and my previous employer. I recently received some compensation based on the PTSD being an injury so I think this is a very important point you have raised. It also points to the cause being an outside force, something done TO you, and there are times when remembering this distinction (rather than ‘I am such a loser’) helps me. Think of it in terms of soldiers returning after service, victims of natural disasters…certainly makes sense that it is an injury to the mind as a result of extreme trauma. I’ll look up the definition of what defines a Psychiatric Injury for the law in Australia and share it with you. Whatever the case, you look after you and remember that each day, you don’t have to be perfect…just OK. xx

  3. Samantha Jane

    August 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I think just calling it a mental illness does not necessarily mean it came out of a “defect” or change in the way your brain functions. I think we call it an illness because it affects the way we live and work (or don’t). I buy into it being an illness in-so-much that it can benefit from treatment, and often times does not get better without a lot of hard work and changes (even without treatment). I think I would classify PTSD more along the lines of pneumonia, and not akin to something like diabetes. And I think I would clump much of depression in the same way. I know my depression worsens when I am more financially unstable, and when I have nothing to really occupy my time. My PTSD has flared up again due to circumstances also. I think looking at it as an illness or disease (dis-ease) can help in treating it, but that it need not be a life-long and “terminal” diagnosis. I think that just like you can heal from pneumonia or bronchitis, you can heal from depression and PTSD (and OCD, because is likely something driving the anxious behaviors). I think today’s medicine and psychiatric field is all about placing people into neat little categories. I think We put too much emphasis on the life-long aspect of all of these ailments, and not enough on how to truly heal from them. We cover up the symptoms with pills and procedures, but we don’t address what it is that drives them. Even in my search for a trauma program/therapist, most everything I find focuses on meds and life-long management of symptoms instead of dealing with the underlying cause.
    I’m not saying that all mental illness is necessarily easy to treat, but I had a few conversations with my ex-mother-in-law (a psychiatrist) who felt that even severe psychosis could be “cured” and not need lifelong maintenance meds. She had told me of a few of her clients that reported significant symptom reduction after dealing with what they felt were their underlying issues. I have yet to see research done on this, but I believe that our minds are capable of incredible things…
    Anyway, I digress. I don’t think you have to buy into a diagnosis in order to be able to heal from what’s ailing you…

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      I’m so glad you’ve written some of those points. I agree that we are always being put in to near little boxes and if we don’t fit then it’s our fault. I also think that there doesn’t seem any ‘rush’ to help get better in psychiatric services. Eg, the peer group that was recommended to me has a commitment of 18 months and then I’d go in to 1-1 therapy. I don’t want this dragging on for even more years and yet that seems the norm. I understand everyone is different and they can’t push people but surely slowing someone down is just as detrimental to progress? Sorry, just waffling again 🙂 x

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

        I don’t understand a year and a half commitment for a peer group… wow. That’s nuts. I think I would personally rather start individual and then do group in conjunction with it (but I also prefer the time to processes things in individual that is brought up by group). I don’t think I would be ok with just group for that long. I tend to want the time to build trust, but I also feel the drive to get it over with. I hate that a lot of places here won’t do any trauma work for at least 6 months after a hospitalization. I know my times between breakdowns are few when dealing with trains. If they made me wait 6 months every time, is never get anywhere… can you appeal the decision and push for individual first?

      • femaleptsd

        August 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm

        I’ve said no to peer group as don’t think it’s the format for me (it’s not group therapy, it’s peer day meet kinda things). I wanted therapy but the therapist who assessed me over 4 sessions said I’m not ready for it and I’ve spoke to my cc and psychiatrist and both said its his decision.

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        Wow. That sucks. I’m sorry. Would you at least have access to a sliding scale therapist? I’m not sure how the system works over there. That just sucks tho. Wow…
        I know what you mean about the peer group thing. They have tried to get me into something like that while I wait for insurance, but it just doesn’t work well for me. I need therapy, not just pretty support. I wonder how that guy came to his decision. From what you have been writing, I would not have said you are not yet ready for therapy, but that’s just me.

      • femaleptsd

        August 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm

        To be honest, the fact I’ve been put forward for this democratic therapeutic community (dtc) is quite an unusual thing as not many places offer it and so I should be pleased apparently. Like you say though, I need therapy not pretty support from peers. My psychiatrist said she was surprised as she thought I’d be offered psychotherapy of some kind but it wasn’t her decision.

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

        I front get that. Why is it not your psychiatrists decision? Shouldn’t she know better than this guy who only saw you 4 times?
        I think I need to look up what a democratic therapeutic community is. And why I’m the world would they give it that name? If it’s just peer support, I would see that as a step down from therapy, not a stepping stone to therapy… maybe something to cover you while you wait for a therapy appointment, but not something in place of therapy… Sorry. I’m just baffled. I hope you can get the help you need sooner rather than later.

      • femaleptsd

        August 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm

        I was baffled too!! The way it works over here is psychiatrist doesn’t do therapy, that’s a separate section – so they can recommend it but ultimately up to the psychologist department to decide who they see and for what x

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

        I think I would go nuts with that. I like that I can see a therapist if one is available and I have the cash. I don’t like to have those choices made for me. Psychiatrists generally don’t do therapy here either, though some will still offer it (most likely to self-pay clients because they stand to make more on that than they do from insurance). I would be screwed if I had to listen to what others decide for me. I’m so picky about therapy, I didn’t realize that people don’t always have the choice of who to see…

      • femaleptsd

        August 2, 2013 at 9:32 pm

        Only if you pay privately for it, but not on the NHS – it’s pretty much, you take what you are given

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm

        Even in state insurance here you can be somewhat selective. Are there any therapists that offer a sliding scale or reduced fee? I go to an office that offers a sliding scale based on ability to pay. I pay the minimum because I have no income, but if I can’t make a payment, they let me run a tab. Is there anything like that near you that you could try?

      • femaleptsd

        August 2, 2013 at 9:38 pm

        There is voluntary places like rape crisis centres that offers free counselling but I can’t get to those places at the min

      • Samantha Jane

        August 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm

        That sucks. Sorry you are having such a hard time finding the right help. :/

  4. Debi

    August 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    My opinion only. If you’re hit by a car, your injuries are real. You suffer the consequences which are clearly a result of what life threw at you. Obviously, you didn’t have to deal with them before the accident but they may well be life-changing. They have become a part of you and you have to work out how you move forward from here on. Is what happened to you so very different?

    I don’t have the answers but I do send my love and support as always. Xx

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      My cc said something very similar to “They have become a part of you” and to be honest that’s probably hit me more than anything else – that’s not going to change, there is no going back on that one! Thanks for the wise words as ever x

  5. Debi

    August 2, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    But it doesn’t have to be negative eg when someone close to you dies, you don’t ‘get over’ the loss but you do learn to live with it. I think it’s similar – a sort of grief for what’s gone but that doesn’t mean there’s no future. Read something amazing today (no details – triggering) but this woman said she refused to be defined by what happened to her. That’s what I hope for you. xxx

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      I feel it is all I am anymore!

      • Debi

        August 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm

        You are so much more than what happened to you. *You* existed before and will do again (I hope). Xxx

  6. Pam Smith

    August 2, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I think if you are in a medically defined treatment pathway then it’s almost a truism that your condition will be labelled an ‘illness’. That doesn’t really mean much except that it is seen as something that can be ‘treated’. But from what you describe, there are different layers to it that probably can’t be treated all at once or by the same person. I think there is an ability bin us to heal from trauma, but it takes an enormous amount of time, during which we need to be safe from further trauma. Then there are the effects of being traumatised, which create reactions which could manifest in more emotional disturbance. Then sometimes the healing process throws up memories and feelings which feel dangerous and traumatic. So in all these ways I think it’s fair to say you are ‘ill’ -which means ‘not well’. In a way it’s an optimistic thing to say, because we are designed to recover from illnesses.

    It sounds like it’s very hard for you to find your way through the various people and departments you might need to access to get better, and that must be very frustrating. I hope if therapy is what you need, you get it.

    • femaleptsd

      August 2, 2013 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks Pam, that makes sense as ever!

      Unfortunately I’ve been declined for 1-1 therapy for being too fragile and no one will commit on how long until I can be re-assessed but they seem to be talking long term kind of numbers which isn’t something I’m happy about. I feel I’m ready to discuss what happened now and so it might mean me trying to find alternative ways to do that, I’m not sure yet x

      • Pam Smith

        August 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

        Sometimes the ‘broken record technique’ does work with institutions – ie stating what you want them to hear unemotionally and repetitively until it gets through. ‘I feel I’m ready to discuss what happened now’ seems like a fairly reasonable way of saying what you need to happen next. I have never heard of a democratic therapeutic group (?) but – like any group – it sounds as if it will be as good as the people in it and the relationships between them. Do you feel this is some kind of a ‘hoop’ you have to jump through before you get 1:1 therapy, or does the person/people who want you to do it genuinely convinced it will help you to move forward?

      • femaleptsd

        August 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm

        Well it’s an 18 month commitment & is purely run by peers – so they even say who can come in to the group and when someone is discharged. I just don’t like the concept never mind the time periods. I honestly don’t want this to still be a focus of my life for 18 months – is that so wrong?

      • Pam Smith

        August 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

        I don’t want to be overly critical because I don’t really know about it, but personally I wouldn’t go to any group therapeutic thing without a good facilitator, especially as the group dynamics will probably be extremely complicated. 18 months does sound like an incredibly long commitment. I thought most counselling type relationships were negotiated by both parties, not given an imposed length at the beginning.

      • femaleptsd

        August 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm

        They are exactly my fears – especially as the ‘staff’ are people who have been through the process, not actual therapists. And only after this ‘stabilisation’ period would I get therapy. What they don’t seem to grasp is my behaviours are they way they are because of what’s going on in my head and until I deal with that, then I’m still going to struggle. Honestly not sure where I go next but I’ve said a categorical no to that idea (which is why I’m so obstinate and always think I’m right according to psychiatrist)

  7. recoverpath

    August 3, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I’m not sure if this contributes in anyway, I am extremely undereducated in regards to the mental health world, and I can only speak to my own experiences. IMHO, I’d classify PTSD as a mental illness only by pure semantic definition of the individual words ‘mental’ ‘illness’.

    I have however noticed a large stigma associated with general cultural understanding of PTSD. While mental illness related to chemical imbalances, inherent brain disorders or other physiological predispositions are not completely, but more excused or understood, PTSD seems to be regarded on some level as a choice, or a sign of weakness. If 2 people exposed to the same event show different reactions (one develops PTSD, the other does not), then what does that say about the person who gains the diagnosis? I’ve experienced this kind of ‘dismissal’ or judgement first-hand in regards to avoidance behaviours I have, and the reaction I get from people involved is an accusation of being self-indulgent. To their credit, the only know of my PTSD diagnosis, and not the nature of my trauma, but the opinions and off-handed comments that add up to ‘you’re weak, can’t you just get over this’ are painful and illustrate the large gap in understanding the nature of this illness. Perhaps more public classification of this as a mental illness might change the stigma. Of course the term ‘mental illness’ carries its own stigma as well, so who knows.

    • femaleptsd

      August 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      It’s a great contribution, thankyou! They are exactly the kind if questions I have in my head and it seems even people in the mh community (with other diagnoses), feel we shouldn’t be put in ‘their’ bracket – like we don’t belong! Have just come across this very recently and it made me mad!!

  8. monstiegirl

    August 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I too like to think of my PTSD as an injury not a mental illness to to its origin and transient potential. I also have a problem with the reference to it as a “disorder”. Prefer rape trauma syndrome as a diagnosis although I do revert to PTSD when I don’t want to disclose I was raped. I’m so disappointed your psychiatrist didn’t feel it was possible to question the decision on therapy. Where does that leave you? Please don’t see this as the last word on the matter. If you can muster up enough energy and fight to write a letter to the person who assessed you to appeal that decision, setting out why peer group work isn’t right and why you feel one to one therapy is… you have a right to do that. An advocate can help. Therapy has to be fought for now in the uk. Wrong but true. Please feel you can ask me for help if you want it. Thinking of you, as always xx

    • femaleptsd

      August 3, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks for, I appreciate it! I feel like I’m out of fight for the time being but hopefully it will return and I can get back on with battling for it!! Thanks also for your kind offer x

  9. Bri King

    August 12, 2013 at 3:42 am

    As a therapist myself I find their decision for you to be quite baffling. I am Australian and psychiatrists here generally don’t tend to offer therapy either, it is about the medication with them. Psychologists and counsellors/therapists offer the therapy. I don’t understand that they think you are too fragile for 1:1 therapy but think you will cope with a group situation? As I said, baffling…

  10. anonymous

    October 4, 2013 at 1:48 am

    I don’t know if it’s a mental illness really. I have recently been diagnosed with it though, and hope in time to not have it anymore. Does it ever go away though?

    • femaleptsd

      October 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      I’m not sure to be honest or does it just become more manageable? x

  11. Amanda

    March 21, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Hi, I just found this blog and have read the comments.

    I suffered PTSD, ‘suffered’ as in I do not have it anymore. I look back over my life and wish I had been diagnosed years ago as much of my life would have taken a different path.

    I suffered two terrible trauma’s in the 1980′ s death and near death. Some 29 years later after a long period of duress and some triggers – I had a traumatic breakdown and ended up with chronic PTSD.

    As I went through the path of healing, having my life explode in my mind like a tsunami, I came to terms with the fact that I had always suffered traumatic shock. The point I want to make here is that in the 1980’s the DSM first acknowledged PTSD, professionals did not really understand the diversity of it, I was never diagnosed.

    When I was diagnosed as having PTSD (mental illness) I also found it an insult. Something really bad happened and I went into shock – how could I now be mentally ill?

    Now I am healed, I look back on my healing path and I thank all those professionals for learning, understanding and showing me a way through it. I don’t like the label and I don’t agree with it as in ‘mental illness’ .

    if you ask the right professionals they will also tell you its not a ‘mental illness’,its a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience/s – Its the way the body normally and naturally responds to abnormal situation.

    Thus when its natural and normal & 100% of people can get it its not a mental illness – But mental illness attaches itself to trauma ‘anxiety, depression, drug addiction, suicide’ . The point is when its natural and normal, you can heal naturally and normally. I did.

    First you have to face your trauma, not suppress it. You have work on your body, your mind and your soul – Stand in your power. I wish you healing….. Its possible.


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