Disclosing Your PTSD Diagnosis

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Have you recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and are you thinking of disclosing your PTSD diagnosis to someone? This can be a stressful experience, as well as a positive one.

When someone learns that they have PTSD, they may not be that surprised. Receiving a diagnosis can actually be a positive experience. People may be comforted by the fact that there is a name for the number of symptoms that they are experiencing.

Being diagnosed with PTSD may also bring about a sense of hope. Even though recovery from PTSD can be a long and difficult road, there are a number of effective treatments for PTSD.

However, PTSD may also be associated with some stigma. That is, some people may view PTSD as a sign that they are weak or damaged in some way. They may be ashamed of having the diagnosis or view it as their fault, as though they did something to cause it. Outsiders may think this of those diagnosed as well. As a result, people may avoid disclosing their diagnosis to people they are close to, such as family and friends.

The Importance of Telling Others

Disclosing that you have PTSD to people in your life (especially loved ones) is important. Loved ones can be an excellent source of social support, which has been found to be incredibly beneficial for people with PTSD. Social support may speed up recovery from PTSD and help someone overcome the effects of a traumatic event.

Yet, telling others about your PTSD diagnosis can be a very difficult and stressful thing to do. Here are some tips that may make the process of disclosing your PTSD to loved ones a bit easier.

Learn About the Diagnosis

Before you tell anyone about your PTSD diagnosis, it is important that you understand the diagnosis yourself. Learn as much as you can about PTSD.

PTSD is often misunderstood, and it is very possible that your loved ones will have many questions about PTSD. Make sure that you can address those questions or, at the very least, direct them to resources to get their questions answered.

The National Center for PTSD from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a good place to find more information and resources, including ways to get help and advice for friends and family.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers a number of PTSD resources including education programs such as NAMI Homefront, which is designed for family members of veterans who have experienced military-related trauma.

Identify People That You Trust and Who Can Provide Support

You do not need to tell everyone about your PTSD. Who should you tell? There are a number of characteristics that you should look for in establishing a source of social support. Share the information with those people who are going to be understanding, trustworthy, and supportive. In deciding who to tell about your PTSD diagnosis, try to see who in your life has a number of these characteristics.

Set Aside a Time to Tell Others

After you identify who you are going to tell about your PTSD diagnosis, make sure you set aside a good time to do so. Telling someone about your PTSD diagnosis can be a stressful thing to do. It may be uncomfortable and/or anxiety-provoking for you.

It can be an emotional experience for both people involved, so make sure that you do it in a place and at a time that is not stressful for you. Invite a friend over for tea. Take a family member out to lunch. You want to set up a situation where you have the person's undivided attention.

You Choose What to Disclose

What to disclose is completely up to you. Give the person enough information to understand the diagnosis and make sure to let them know how they can help.

You do not need to tell your loved ones everything. For example, you do not need to disclose specific information about your traumatic event.

If someone asks you an uncomfortable question that you do not want to answer, it is perfectly OK to simply say, "I'm sorry, but I am not ready to talk about that yet."

Prepare beforehand by coming up with some things you can say if someone asks you a question you do not want to answer.

Eliminate Confusion About PTSD

Be prepared to give them the basics on PTSD. Tell them what symptoms commonly occur in PTSD and why. If you are telling someone who is going to be providing you with social support, it is important that they have a good foundation of knowledge on PTSD. They need to understand why certain symptoms and behaviors occur, what they look like, and how they can be addressed.

Talk to Others With PTSD

If you know other people with PTSD, talk to them to see how they disclosed their diagnosis to loved ones. What worked well for them? What would they do differently if they had to do it again? You can gain some valuable information from the experiences of others with PTSD or who are recovering from PTSD.

Prepare Yourself in Case They Don't Understand

Finally, prepare yourself for the possibility that someone may not be supportive or understanding of what you are going through. Sometimes people may not be ready to hear what you have to tell them. This can be a very difficult experience to encounter, and it has the potential to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. It may also prevent you from seeking out support from others.

Before you tell anyone about your PTSD, make sure you have some coping skills ready to deal with the possibility that someone may not give you the response you want. Remind yourself that that is about them, not you.

Remember You Are in Control

In the end, it is important for you to know that you do not have to disclose your PTSD to anyone before you are ready. You are in control. You decide who to disclose your diagnosis to and when.

PTSD is never a sign of weakness, and it is never the fault of the person with the diagnosis. Surrounding yourself with people who understand, care for and support you, can greatly reduce the stigma around a PTSD diagnosis and ​aid in recovery. PTSD can be a difficult diagnosis to cope with. However, recovery is definitely possible.

2 Sources
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  1. Mittal D, Drummond KL, Blevins D, Curran G, Corrigan P, Sullivan G. Stigma associated with PTSD: perceptions of treatment seeking combat veterans. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2013;36(2):86-92. doi:10.1037/h0094976

  2. Gros DF, Flanagan JC, Korte KJ, Mills AC, Brady KT, Back SE. Relations among social support, PTSD symptoms, and substance use in veteransPsychol Addict Behav. 2016;30(7):764–770. doi:10.1037/adb0000205

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.