I have a soft, mushy spot in my heart for dogs, military vets and and people with mental illnesses and brain injuries. So, when I went to the AOL home page to retrieve my email and saw a photo of a young man with his arm around a dog and this headline - “Airline Staff Allegedly Abused Veteran” – I had to click.
In the story, Jim Stanek, a disabled vet who served three tours in Iraq and now has PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) describes how he and his service dog Sarge were treated by United Airlines.
It is one of those flight-gone-bad stories that makes you want to escort the boards of directors at all the major airlines onto a plane, seat them in coach, close the doors, disable the bathrooms and leave them on the tarmac for eight hours with only peanuts, pretzels and water.
Stanek was trying to get back to his home in New Mexico after a fundraising event for Paws for Stripes, an organization he co-founded which provides service dogs for vets with PTSD and TBI. He got stuck in Dulles International Airport for a couple of frustrating days – flights cancelled, re-scheduled, cancelled, re-scheduled and on and on. It sounds like the kind of experience that would have driven the Dalai Lama to cursing.
Researchers believe that in any given year, ten percent of the population will suffer from a major depression. That’s 31,047,771 million suffering Americans.
Researchers also estimate that about 12 percent of the population has alcoholism. That’s 37,257,326 Americans with alcoholism.
Combined, that is 68,305,097 American with alcoholism or in a major depression.
For every person with a mental illness there will be at least three others profoundly affected by the illness. A parent or guardian (another 68,305,097); A spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend (another 68,305,097); A sibling/child/co-worker/friend (another 68,305,097).
It is naive to believe that people will respond to stressful events in exactly the same way. Actually, it is stupid. Which is why I am slightly ticked off this morning by an opinion piece written by the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer.
In it, Krauthammer, a psychiatrist who has not practiced for decades, slams those of us who believe what he skeptically calls “Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” “Vicarious Traumatization” or “Compassion Fatigue”. The Army calls it “Provider Fatigue.”
Krauthammer scoffs at recent reports that Dr. Nidal Hasan’s job of listening to the terrible stories of combat-wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may have contributed to his rampage at Fort Hood: “They suffered. He listened. He snapped.”
“Really? What about the doctors and nurses, the counselors and physical therapists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who every day hear and live with the pain and the suffering of returning soldiers? How many of them then picked up a gun and shot 51 innocents?”
None, which is my point. We each have our own set of personal circumstances. Dr. Hasan is Muslim. He is against the war. He was afraid of being sent to the battlefields he had heard so much about. He was concerned about going into a combat zone where our soldiers were killing enemies who practiced the same religion – Islam. We do not know if Dr. Hasan is mentally ill. News reports do portray him as a zealot and we know that religiosity is a symptom of some mental illnesses.
To say that Dr. Hasan should have the same emotional strength and fortitude as other doctors, nurses, counselors and therapists at Walter Reed Amy Medical Center is to say that if you swim the same workouts as Michael Phelps you should be as fast as Michael Phelps.
Some of us are physically and mentally stronger than others – ergo – we react differently to the same stressor. I am NOT making excuses for Dr. Hasan. But I will defend Secondary PTSD – which Krauthammer snears at: “After all, secondary PTSD, for those who believe in it (you won’t find it in the …
I will go to my therapist’s office this afternoon. I will sit in the waiting room and read an old magazine. Another client will walk from a hallway that leads to my therapist’s office, pass through the waiting room and leave. My therapist will poke her head out, smile and say: “I’ll be with you in a minute.” After a few minutes she will come back and invite me into her office. I will walk in, notice Kleenex in the waste basket and sit on the couch beside the box of Kleenex.
After a few pleasantries I will start unloading the detritus of my soul. She always pays attention and looks interested. I am her last patient on Friday. I cap off her week of listening to the detritus of other peoples’ souls. I ask myself, who in their right freakin’ mind would do this for a living? Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, listening other peoples’ misery.
So I asked her. “It does get to you,” she said and explained how she takes care of herself. Burnout is a big problem among mental health care providers, she said. Then I remembered Tony Soprano’s therapist who had her own therapist on The Sopranos. It never dawned on me that a therapist might have a therapist.
This morning I got to thinking about this after reading about the gunman and his horrible rampage at Fort Hood yesterday. His name is Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and he is an Army psychiatrist. He also is Muslim. Before he opened fire and killed 12 and wounded 31 people yesterday he had been assigned to counsel soldiers returning from the battlefields with post traumatic stress disorder. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week he listened to the horrors and atrocities of war. The soldiers he counseled were emotionally raw – just off the battlefield.
Then Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan learned that the Army wanted to send him to the very place where those horrors and atrocities occur. There was the “Muslim issue”, too. The doctor is a practicing Muslim and he took a lot of heat for it …
Hello. My name is Christine and I am mentally ill.
I have depression, a form of bipolar called hypomania and I am a recovering alcoholic with 10 years of sobriety. I am also an investigative reporter, a single-mother, dog-owner and coupon clipper. I have a mortgage, a teenage daughter, a job, credit cards, a gym membership and a load of laundry that needs to be folded.
I am 50 years old and I prefer to call my gray hair “silver.” I worry about my 401K and whether my daughter might inherit these illnesses. I take medications. I see a therapist. I pray. In many ways we are very much alike.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with depression. A year later came the hypomania diagnosis. Since then I have chosen to manage my illnesses, learn as much as I can and share my experience in a weekly column I write for The Palm Beach Post called “Kicking Depression.”
I have been a journalist for 30 years. Twelve of those years in I spent covering the criminal courts. It was there I first learned about mental illness and the wake of devastation it leaves behind when left untreated. I watched a Vietnam Veteran with severe Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder die in the electric chair after his PTSD defense failed. I listened to the delusions of a grandmother who killed a co-worker because she thought the woman had stolen the $1 million check that John F. Kennedy has given her to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis. Day after day I watched the blank faces of victims and listened to their depression speak. Lives gutted by mental illness.
I never imagined I would be touched by these same illnesses. And I never dreamed my life could be so good, so stable and so balanced with the help of medications, a good therapist, an understanding boss and devoted friends.
While I believe in knowledge, medication, therapy and a higher power, I also believe in the power of one person sharing his or her experience, strength and hope with another. That is the purpose of this blog: to learn, share, …