PTSD: Civilians just love to paint veterans as riddled with this disease, causing them to become violent, unhinged lunatics who will explode at the slightest provocation. Look at just about any news story where a violent crime is committed by a veteran, and PTSD is almost immediately floated as the reason.
In the media narrative, violence and PTSD go hand-in-hand. At the same time, troops are criticized for not coming forward and admitting they have a problem, and seeking help for it. (Gee, could it possibly be because we paint veterans with PTSD as homicidal lunatics?)
Dr. Phil, arguably one of the most popular talk show hosts on the planet, decided to feature this issue on his show this week. And while he could have taken a reasonable approach, he went straight for the gut instead. Titling the show “From Heroes To Monsters”, he painted a picture of vets with PTSD as ticking time bombs of violence, describing them as damaged goods who “destroy families” and “dismantle marriages.”
One of Dr. Phil’s guests, Matt, is a former Marine who struggles with PTSD. He speaks about how, while deployed to Afghanistan, he repeatedly stabbed an enemy combatant in the face, even after he was dead, to get his anger out. He also claims he saw “lots” of innocent people killed, including women and children. (His last name isn’t given, so it’s impossible to verify his claims of killing women and children while deployed to Afghanistan.)
After Matt, Dr. Phil featured Mark and Heather. Mark is another veteran with PTSD who admits he has violent rages, says his life has been destroyed, and is afraid of what he will do to his family. Heather’s husband, Duane, had PTSD. He beat her and set her on fire.
The common thread between all of these stories: violence. Did Dr. Phil ever stop to point out that most veterans with PTSD don’t end up setting their wives on fire or stabbing people repeatedly in the face? Of course not. Indeed, recent research has found that the link between PTSD and violent behavior is actually weak.
Another dirty little secret Dr. Phil didn’t feel was necessary to point out: civilians get PTSD, too. In fact, anyone can get it — anyone who has been through a trauma. According to the VA, about 7-8% of the general population will get PTSD at some point in their lives. For veterans, the risk is slightly higher, although not by much at 11-20%.
And, believe it or not, the symptoms of PTSD do not include sudden violence such as setting your wife on fire or stabbing people in the face. Common symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of it, feeling numb, feeling jittery, suddenly being angry or irritable, having trouble sleeping, etc. Setting your wife on fire? Not so much a normal occurrence.
While relationship problems and violence may occur, acting as if it is a foregone conclusion (as Dr. Phil did) and saying that vets with PTSD are “monsters” is ridiculous and offensive.