Whether people recognize it or not, mass media has a big influence on how society views aspects of life. Through television, movies and news, we are faced with the media’s ideas on what a culture should look like. In this way, media plays a strong role in the stigma surrounding mental health disorders.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that is often portrayed in movies and television and influences the public’s perception of the condition.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops as result of exposure to trauma — or an event that is overwhelming, scary or life-threatening.1 Those with PTSD suffer from repeated re-experiencing of the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or hallucinations. Being trapped in this cycle often prevents those with PTSD from living fulfilling lives. They may become avoidant, choosing to stay home in order to avoid those situations that trigger flashbacks.

The re-experiencing of a traumatic event can cause hyper-arousal, as well. This leads to symptoms of irritability, panic attacks, poor concentration and sleep deprivation. The symptoms of PTSD last for over a month following the traumatic event and can continue for years if left untreated.

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How PTSD Begins

One of the most common causes of PTSD comes from war experiences. Those fighting in war or who live in war-torn countries have a high risk of developing PTSD. Most often, it is a near-death situation that leads to PTSD in military personnel. However, other situations may also cause the disorder to develop as well, such as witnessing another person’s death.

PTSD occurs as a result of non-military traumas, as well. Witnessing a natural disaster or the aftermath leads to the development of PTSD in many people. Seeing violence or a crime being committed is a common cause of this disorder as well. Situations that trigger the development of PTSD include sexual abuse, physical abuse, robbery, childhood neglect, combat and many others.2

PTSD in Movies and Television

The portrayal of PTSD in movies and television is often pretty accurate. Certain features of PTSD tend to be accented, particularly the traumatic events which caused the disorder to develop. This leads to a concern about the types of events the media determines are traumatic enough to cause a disorder like PTSD.

In a vast majority of these movies and television shows, those with PTSD have suffered from the traumas of combat exposure. Very rarely do they show scenarios where natural disaster or robbery causes PTSD. Because of this, the media inadvertently creates a stigma around those who develop PTSD from these events.

As a society, we have become familiar with PTSD from military exposure. However, we may view those who have gone through traumas different from combat as being weak if they develop a resulting mental illness after their traumatic exposure. This stigma may prevent many who suffer from PTSD from seeking the treatment they need to recover.

Get Help for PTSD

Although the media does a good job of presenting military-based PTSD accurately, by under-representing other types of trauma and its very real effects, some people may lack the knowledge and confidence to seek out help. The reality is that PTSD can develop from a myriad of different scenarios that need to be acknowledged and explored.

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day at 706-914-2327 to answer any questions you might have about PTSD treatment.


1 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. February 2016.

2 War and Combat.” US Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed 30 October 2018.