MAPLEWOOD — Christian Benedetto didn’t know he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when he first returned home from fighting in the Gulf War in 1991. He did not realize, he said, that the four years he spent in the Marines had affected his mental health.
“I had nightmares sometimes, I had panic attacks,” he said. “But it wasn’t until I was in my late 30s until I realized that there were things happening that were consequences (of my time in the armed services).”
The realization, Benedetto said, came one night several years ago when his then 5-year-old son jumped into his bed one morning. Benedetto had been having a nightmare, and woke up immediately upon feeling the impact of his son’s jump and grabbed the child’s arm.
“It scared him a little, but it scared me a lot more,” Benedetto said of the incident. He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013.
The Morris Plains resident said his symptoms have since calmed down, thanks to a mix of medical treatment, diet and lifestyle changes, and yoga. But, awareness about the condition that he said affects millions of people across the U.S. has not improved, he said.
This week — just in time for National PTSD Awareness Day Saturday — Benedetto and several business partners launched the PTSD Journal, a quarterly magazine and website based in Maplewood and distributed nationwide. It targets military members and civilians suffering from PTSD, and for those who interact with them.
“If you look at the statistics, basically everyone knows someone or is somehow affected by PTSD, but people really don’t know enough about it,” Benedetto said. “When people ask me who this magazine is for, I say everyone.”
Benedetto said one of his hopes is to dispel misconceptions that have spread about PTSD. He identified the following as the top five misunderstandings people have about PTSD:
1. PTSD is just a military disorder
Experts agree. Dr. Amy Silvestri Hunter, Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology at Seton Hall University, said though many people think PTSD only affects former soldiers, it’s impact is much wider.
“It can happen after many different types of trauma, including personal events such as being a victim of sexual assault or being in a car accident, or second-hand experiences such as seeing traumatic events in the media,” she said. “It’s even been reported to occur in some people who have spent time in the intensive care unit of a hospital.”
2. Only men get it
“People don’t realize who this impacts,” Benedetto said. “Victims of sexual assault, inner city kids, and Autistic people are all at a much higher risk of having PTSD.”
3. PTSD is a sign of weakness
“Part of this process of making the magazine has been therapeutic,” he said. “It has helped me to understand that I am not alone, which is really the most important part.”
4. Everyone with PTSD is a threat to others
Knowing how to deal with people with PTSD is one of the most important reasons awareness should be spread throughout the entire community, not just to those experiencing post traumatic stress, Benedetto said.
5. There is a cure
“There is no cure,” Benedetto said. “But, you can treat the symptoms…you can work toward (relief) and awareness. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Jessica Mazzola may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JessMazzola. Find NJ.com on Facebook.