Why PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness


The National Institute of Mental Health says that 7.7 million adults have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) today. This isn't only because there's been a surge of awareness about PTSD but now people are also recognizing that you can develop PTSD in other ways besides going to war (e.g. 9/11, natural disasters, physical or verbal abuse, emotional or psychological trauma). Unfortunately, while many people are being diagnosed with PTSD today there's still a lot of misconceptions about it as well. The one that I want to address with you here today is...

Why PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD affects your brain in various ways

People who have researched the brain have found that people who have PTSD have major changes in their brain structures. This is especially true in the areas of the amygdala and the hippocampus. Trauma has resulted in major physical changes in these areas of the brain in specific. Unfortunately, this results in many additional problems for those who have PTSD. It's important to understand these changes so you can truly understand what it's like to live with PTSD.

Effect of Trauma on the Hippocampus

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Degenerates the Hippocampus

Normally memories are built and retrieved when the hippocampus blends together everything from all of your body's sensory areas. These are then stored in your short term memory (which occurs ) until they're processed into your brain's other parts. Unfortunately, when a person has PTSD their hippocampus shrinks in volume distorting their ability to record new memories and retrieve older ones.

Your hippocampus is also responsible for helping you distinguish between past and present memories. When it shrinks in volume it can cause you to lose your ability to discriminate between past and present memories. This is why people with PTSD suffer from flashbacks.

Effect of Trauma on the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Degenerates the Prefrontal Cortex

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex region of your brain is responsible for regulating negative emotions (e.g. fear). This part of your brain also shrinks when you have PTSD, thus reducing your ability to regulate these emotions because it is unable to regulate itself or function properly after you've been traumatized. When this happens you will feel more fearful, anxious, and stressed even when what you're going through seemingly has no connection to the original trauma. This is because the prefrontal cortex of your brain can no longer function properly after you were traumatized. It's also why you may find yourself struggling to find the right words to describe your thoughts and feelings since linguistic function also occurs in this part of your brain and has been disrupted by your trauma.

Effect of Trauma on the Amygdala

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Degenerates the Amygdala

Activity within the amygdala region of the brain increases when there's been trauma. This is the part of your brain that helps with processing emotions and managing fear responses. It works with the hippocampus to recall situations from the past to determine if things are safe, if you like something, and most importantly (especially to those who have PTSD) whether or not to initiate stress responses and trigger hormones. So, when this part of your brain is hyperactive and it connects with a broken hippocampus it'll result in a distorted view of situations.

When you have PTSD the reason why your amygdala is hyperactive is because it's responding to stimuli that are connected to your trauma. Unfortunately, the amygdala can become so hyperactive (or enlarged) in certain people who have PTSD that fear and stress responses may occur when they're simply shown a picture of people exhibiting these emotions. This explains why people who have PTSD struggle to control their emotions.

Effect of Trauma on Cortisol Levels

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Raises Cortisol Levels


When a normal person experiences a brief period of stress or someone is suffering from major depression they typically have high levels of cortisol and corticotropin-releasing factor. However, those who have PTSD only have an increased corticotropin-releasing factor while their cortisol level remains low. In my case, this has led me to develop adrenal fatigue - something that further complicates my PTSD.

Other chemicals in patients diagnosed with PTSD also seem askew, including:
  • There's more norepinephrine 
  • The adrenegic receptors are more reactive
  • Increased levels of thyroid hormone: This will make you feel either anxious, which in my case oftentimes leads to suicidal ideations.

Remember: PTSD is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness

Researchers believe that due to the way that a person's brain is affected by PTSD, it's important to see that PTSD is a mental injury, not a mental illness. This is mainly because of the fact that the symptoms of PTSD are merely a natural reaction to a distressing event during which a person feels overwhelmed, afraid, or even helpless. In contrast, mental illness is something that's "wrong" with a person, not a manifestation of how a normal person responds to trauma.

An example of this would be a person who falls and cuts their leg is said to have an injury. It is possible for bleeding to occur as a symptom of the injury but just how much bleeding occurs depends on the injury's severity. In a similar fashion PTSD symptoms often result in issues with concentration, angry outbursts, sleep disturbances, sadness, and anxiety. These are natural responses to the overwhelming circumstances a person has been through.

Learning to Manage Your Brain Injury


PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
Finding Rest in God...
A short devotional for those who have PTSD and are feeling tired 

There are many things that I've found  to be beneficial to healing my brain and moving past my 40+years of trauma. One of the biggest things I've found that's truly helped me is my relationship with God. I once was a weary traveler but He stretched His hand out to me and I'm learning to rest in Him. This is where I'm coming from when I wrote the short devotional, Finding Rest in God. I pray that through this short devotional you'll find your rest in Him too.

PTSD Is a Mental Injury, Not a Mental Illness
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Comments

  1. Thank you for this informative article! It is important to get in tune with your body and mind to improve overall well-being and find out how what caused those mental injuries in the past.

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    1. Yes, I truly agree with you. Every part of your being needs to be healthy in order for you to do well in life.

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  2. Interesting ti read ive never seen Pstd in that light

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    1. Yes, it's definitely something a lot of people don't realize.

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  3. Thanks Brenda ... this is a very interesting article. I hope to hear more of your story AND if you're willing to share, I would be honoured to feature of a personal story from you on my project www.DailyInspiredLife.com I believe your personal story and what you've learned from it could help many others.

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    1. Wow! Thank you! I'd love to share with your audience. I reached out to you through your contact form on your website. I hope the email makes its way safely to your inbox so we can collab soon :)

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  4. This is very enlightening. I wish everyone could read this to get a better understanding of PTSD.

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    1. I'm glad you found it useful/helpful. I hope that this blog will reach and help many people.

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  5. Wow! This is very interesting as well as informative! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you. I'm glad that it was both interesting and informative as this was a challenging one to write.

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  6. Excellent post, I hadn’t realized the difference between Mental Injury and Mental Illness! Certainly has given me lots to think about!!

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    1. Glad to challenge your thinking in a positive way. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. In this hustle-bustle, we always forget about our mental and physical health. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. There are so many aspects to our health (eg mental, physical, spiritual) it's challenging in this day and age to keep them all working well together.

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  8. Hi Brenda. This is such a wonderful explanation of some of the damage that occurs when we've been traumatized. Thank you for sharing! Blessings, Tammy

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  9. Very interesting and informative. Trauma is hard to deal with; but understanding it and knowing what it is that we going through during trying times is really helpful Thanks for this post

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    1. I'm glad you found this post helpful. So many people don't realize how much trauma changes people but it really does.

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  10. Very interesting and informative. Trauma is hard to deal with; but understanding it and knowing what it is that we going through during trying times is really helpful Thanks for this post

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    1. You're welcome... Trauma changes everything. It definitely makes things more challenging. Knowing that there's nothing "wrong" with us that it's an "injury" really does change your thought process. I know it's made things easier for me to deal with.

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  11. It good to know the distinction of PTSD. I'm sure this will be helpful for so many people.

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    1. I wish more people realized this distinction. I think PTSD is unfairly lumped into the mental illness category. I can't think of where else it should be but understanding that it is not the same thing really was a life changer for me. I'm hoping that others will also feel freed by this understanding.

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  12. Reading about the brain has been a fascination with me for years. Years ago my husband, young daughter and I were in a horrible car wreck that left us very injured and lucky to be alive. After coming to, I watched my husband die while my daughter was crying and I was unable to move. Through many miracles my husband was brought back to life twice and we eventually recovered from our injuries. I suffered from PTSD from it that was intensified because I was unable to talk about in in the first several days. Actually, we all had PTSD ( different things triggered us and it affected us differently) It would take several years to figure this out. Over time, many years, and therapy it diminished. At the time I was suffering from it, I wish I had known more about it. Thanks for writing such an informative article. I too would love to hear your story.

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    1. Thank God you're all alive! And also thank God that you're able to overcome your PTSD. I am truly happy to know that by sharing here it's helping to make a difference, no matter how small that difference may be. I'm also very blessed in that I've been able to share my "story" in various places throughout the web. Keep an eye out as I'll be adding links here as these interviews are published.

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  13. Very interesting article on PTSD. visiting from #kcacols

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  14. Really interesting - good to understand the difference between a mental injury and a mental illness #KCACOLS

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    1. Thank you. I really believe that it's important to understand this difference.

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  15. This is such an interesting topic! I know several people who suffer from PTSD, and this all is very helpful info.

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    1. Thank you. I feel there's honestly so much that needs to be said / understood that hasn't been yet. Hopefully I can do my small part in educating others here.

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  16. Brenda, this is super enlightening information! That distinction between mental illness and mental injury is paramount in understanding the differences between certain mental health diagnosis and leads us to better ways of treatment. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information and speaking openly on these topics.

    Shelbee
    www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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    1. Thanks for putting a new "spin" on things. I honestly hadn't thought about it like this before.

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  17. An education reading this, thank you for enlightenning me #KCACOLS

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to learn something new.

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  18. Interesting. I think here (Australia) we see it that way #KCACOLS

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    1. It's interesting how "behind" America is when it comes to mental health care.

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