The Best Ways for People With PTSD to Reduce Stigma

Getting mental health treatment can help

Woman with head in hands
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Many people experience stigma from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition can be debilitating since the symptoms can lead to tremendous emotional distress, and individuals with PTSD often experience problems with relationships, work or school.

People with PTSD may also be more likely to develop other disorders, such as anxiety disorders, depression, or substance abuse problems.

Effective treatment for PTSD and other disorders are available, but these treatments are only helpful if they are sought out by someone with the disorder. Unfortunately, this does not always occur.

Among a large group of people with a variety of diagnoses (for example, major depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders), fewer than 30 percent actually sought out treatment. People with PTSD may be particularly reluctant to seek help.

Barriers to Getting Treatment

In one study of 1,387 people with a psychiatric disorder, barriers to getting care included the severity of symptoms experienced, difficulties with daily routines, and abusing alcohol.

The study found the most common reasons people did not get help for PTSD.

  • 28 percent did not think anyone could help them.
  • 28 percent thought their problem was one that they should be able to cope with.
  • 17 percent did not think it was necessary to contact a doctor.
  • 15 percent thought the problem would get better on its own.
  • 13 percent were too embarrassed to discuss the problem with anyone
  • 10 percent were afraid of the consequences of seeking help (for example, that they would be hospitalized)

These findings suggest that, at least for some people, ​the stigma associated with having a mental illness may prevent them from seeking treatment.


Stigma refers to associating negative qualities with having a mental illness. For example, a person with a mental illness may be wrongly viewed (and may even view themselves) as being weak or "damaged." This perception leads to feelings of shame or embarrassment.

Stigma may be particularly pronounced among military service members with a psychological disorder. For example, one study found that among United States service members returning from Bosnia, 61 percent strongly agreed with the idea that disclosing a mental illness would harm their career.

In addition, 43 percent strongly believed that admitting to having a psychological condition would cause other people to not want to be around them.

Service members were less likely to follow through on a referral for help with psychological problems compared to a referral for medical problems.

Another study of U.S. service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan found that beliefs associated with "being weak" and fears of being treated or viewed differently by other people in their unit posed a barrier to seeking treatment for mental health conditions.

What You Need to Remember

Having a psychiatric disorder or a history of mental illness is not a sign of weakness or a reason to feel ashamed. Mental health conditions are common and many of the factors that cause a psychological disorder are completely out of a person's control.

There is no evidence that disorders develop as a result of someone not being strong enough. There are many effective treatments available for mental illness and ways to learn how to cope with your symptoms.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • Hoge, C.W., Castro, C., Messer, S.C., McGurk, D., Cotting, D.I., & Koffman, R.L. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 13-22.
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  • Reiger, D.A., Narrow, W.E., Rae, D.S., Manderscheid, R.W., Locke, B.Z., & Goodwin, F.K. (1993). The de facto U.S. mental and addictive disorders service system: Epidemiologic catchment area prospective 1-year prevalence rates of disorders and services. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 85-94.

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