Last week in the Dallas Morning News, staff writer Tom Benning wrote about Former President George W. Bush:“Bush, speaking at a summit he convened on veterans’ issues, said that the condition has been mislabeled as a ‘disorder’ and that calling it just ‘post-traumatic stress’ would go a long way in erasing the stigma that affects many vets.”
I think he’s right about that, although after 40 years of the “D” on the end of PTS, it may be hard to change. When the conversation changes from “something that happened” to someone, to “something that’s wrong” with them, stigma gets embedded in media and the public’s mind. In this case news and entertainment associate PTSD with gun rampages, domestic violence, and other very bad behavior. It becomes “something that’s wrong” and of course there is stigma.
Benning continues to quote Bush saying, “We are going to use our platform to make clear that veterans receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress are not damaged goods, they are not mentally shattered. They are people who got hurt defending our country and are now overcoming wounds.”
Sadly, though, Bush misses the larger point: trauma and the stress it creates isn’t limited to combat vets. While Bush’s comments do a service for this population, they throw under the bus the larger group experiencing posttraumatic stress. For example, when I was diagnosed with PTSD (yes, the “D”) in the very early 80s, it was because of what seemed like exceptionally benevolent “traumatic” events: multiple moves because of my father’s service during the end of WWII and the Korean conflict; separation from service and the moves associated with starting a career; his death from cancer before I was three; a rare disease that induced out of body experiences; and then an orthopedic disability that meant I might be tossed to the ground at any time with a kneecap somewhere it didn’t belong. These exotic experiences were enough for me to develop vulnerability to other traumatic experiences.
I wasn’t a combat vet, though, and so in many ways, my PTSD didn’t count. Women and children were and may still be differentially diagnosed when presenting with symptoms not accompanied by the label “veteran”. I am grateful that the clinician with whom I worked back then understood that the problematic behaviors I wrestled with were symptoms of posttraumatic stress, despite the rarity of this diagnosis given to women.
Look at the statistics:
The point is this: overwhelming experiences—including but certainly not limited to combat—support the development of posttraumatic stress, including the “D”—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whether it’s the “benevolent” trauma that was causal for me, or abuse, neglect, domestic violence, bullying, maltreatment in care systems, accidents, natural disaster, or combat, the cost to those of us who wrestle with this invisible terror is the same.
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Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2014