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Mental Illness, 9/11, and PTSD September 11, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, PTSD.
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Reprinted from PBS’ ‘This Emotional Life: Remembering the Psychological Impact of War, and Doing Something About It’ by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-van-dahlen-phd)

On September 11, 2001, our nation went to war — first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. Nearly nine years later the war rages on and the men, women and families in our military community continue to experience the consequences of this war.

Although we have all seen the news reports and read the articles explaining the human cost of war, as a country we seem to still struggle to grasp the enormity of the situation for the men, women and families who serve. There is no doubt that Americans want to support our men and women in uniform. We are clearly proud of their service and appreciate their sacrifice. But far too many of us lack the knowledge and understanding necessary to truly assist in the reintegration of our returning troops into their — and our — communities.

How can we understand this disconnect? What makes it so difficult for us as a nation to recognize and respond to the reality of war for those who serve? And, most importantly, what can we and our leaders do to effectively and comprehensively care for our military personnel and their families?

One reason we struggle to grasp the true impact of war on those who fight is the nature of that impact. It is relatively easy for us to recognize the effect of a physical injury. We may feel uneasy or uncomfortable at the sight of a young man or woman who is missing a limb as a result of his or her service, but at least we can see the injury. At public events we routinely applaud all of the wounded warriors who have returned home. We support programs and encourage funding to care for those who have suffered physical injuries. For many of those who serve, however, the injuries are invisible. Yet these unseen injuries have far-reaching implications for a soldier’s ability to function here at home. These invisible injuries can and often do affect the ability to work, play, sleep, study, love, parent and relax — in short, to be.

Perhaps the primary reason for our difficulty in responding effectively to the needs of those coming home from battle is our discomfort with mental health issues in general. Journalists and others repeatedly ask about the “stigma” that prevents those in need of care from seeking service. Unfortunately, our society — our culture — is poorly equipped to respond to the needs of citizens grappling with mental health issues. We continue to perceive those in need of mental health care and support as weak, less competent, less capable or less effective than those who do not seek such care. But psychological struggles are normal and punctuate everyone’s life and experience.

We have all experienced stress and self-doubt; many of us have felt depressed, anxious and overwhelmed. Many of us have experienced loss and pain and been affected by trauma. And yet, we continue to shrink from conversations about these issues–perhaps because the conversations themselves elicit feelings that remind us of our own psychological struggles, challenges, and pain.

Yes, we are definitely uneasy with the conversation about the psychological impact of war on those who serve. Maybe we feel guilty for subjecting those who serve to possible psychological injury in the first place. Maybe we sense that the consequence of this type of injury can be more devastating than a physical injury. Maybe we have a collective memory of the generation of Vietnam veterans, who came home from war with demons that plague them to this day.

No matter what the reason, if we are aware that war can lead to psychological injury, if we have research that confirms this, then we should do all that is within our power to educate ourselves so that we can effectively support those who serve and their families — so that we can ease their pain, normalize their experience and guide them through what can be a very difficult journey home.