Moved by the desperation captured in Bill Briggs’ article, ‘Out Of Options’: Veterans With PTSD Hit Pot Underground, I join in the call, along with Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, to stop waiting for Washington and save the American Dream. Beginning on Throwback Thursday (April 3, 2014), I’ll be posting a series of articles with suggestions for real solutions to the PTSD epidemic, along with a challenge or two.
Today, let’s start by challenging OURSELVES. Before you or I make judgements about the use of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, let’s consider a possibility:
What if your very next breath depended upon simply walking away from a comfort zone?
Would you be willing to face whatever fears arise?
Would you fight for a life worth living?
Given a fight for your life, a fight for whether or not you’ll live long enough to marry the love of your life, or a fight that must be won, so your children won’t grow up without a parent, my bet is YOU and I would do whatever it takes to survive.
Regardless of how the trauma happened, the method (and timing) PTSD survivors choose for their healing is their decision alone. I’m as guilty as anyone else out there for thinking and responding out of ignorance. . . and I’m a PTSD survivor. It wasn’t until I made a commitment to healing, I realized how much society had stigmatized my view. It’s been said, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” I have. Let me give you a bike.
If you’re a survivor, don’t let anyone, including professionals or family, embarrass or shame you for doing things that help you feel better (Of course, be wise in this area. Abusing drugs, alcohol, money, your body or someone close to you is never a healthy choice.).When it comes to a life or death decision about healing from PTSD, I say, “normal” is what works.
STOP. THINK B4 U SPEAK.
As more and more veterans break their silence about their struggles with PTSD, at the risk of losing their jobs, their VA benefits and respect of family, friends or colleagues, one thing is becoming glaringly obvious. We could be doing a lot more to help. I mean WE, as in YOU and ME.
I’m not talking about throwing money at or investing time in a cause or charity, although those things are worthy of supporting, provided they get resources that actually work in the hands of those who need it most. I am talking about just one small thing you can do every day – think before you speak.
Do you know the number one reason veterans and civilians alike choose addiction or worse, suicide, instead of reaching out for the help they need to overcome PTSD? The number one reason is the way YOU and I think and talk about mental health, especially PTSD. Translated, that means stigma, a weird sounding word that’s easy to hide behind; a word that puts distance between YOU and ME; a word that’s usually followed by THEY or THEM. These are words that de-humanize, stripping personal responsibility away from where the application of it can do the most good. The bottom line is this, when people are de-humanized, reduced to “things,” they become as disposable as your last Starbucks coffee cup.
The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study in 2004 that points the finger directly at YOU and ME. In 2004, for heaven’s sake! What have we been doing for the past 10 years, while the suicide rate for veterans climbs to a staggering 22+ every day? That’s one family torn apart every 65 minutes. And guess what? Those statistics don’t take into account other PTSD suicides, like child sexual abuse, rape, or intimate family member survivors. The veterans from that study said there were very specific barriers in the way of getting the help they need. Here are the top three:
- I would be seen as weak.
- My unit leadership might treat me differently.
- Members of my unit might have less confidence in me.
These are men and women who are the bravest of the brave, have fought in wars many didn’t believe in, all for the sake of keeping YOU and ME safe and free – free to choose how we live our lives, free to seek our own happiness and free to enjoy the benefits of being an American Citizen. Which, by the way, you would think might include the possibility of getting the help a person needs, when they need it most, especially for those who wear a uniform with honor.
Think you’re not contributing to the PTSD epidemic?
For years, I didn’t either.
Here’s an excerpt from, PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living, coming out June (2014) – PTSD Awareness Month:
PTSD Stigma: What Does It Sound Like?
Examples of the devastating effects of PTSD ignorance and insensitivity have taken many forms in the news media recently. You see it in shock-value stories about survivor suicides and violent crimes with subtle side notes (“It was reported that he had PTSD”). Unfortunately, these examples result in and perpetuate the stigmatization of PTSD survivors, making them people to be feared, distrusted, or shunned as unproductive members of society.
Individuals, institutions, caregivers, people close to the survivor, and even other survivors may be contributing to the social stigma of a PTSD diagnosis—and not know it. Without a doubt, PTSD healing cannot be accomplished without the help of caring, compassionate people. Although most have good intentions at heart, those same people can also unintentionally do more harm than good.
Maybe you know someone attempting to heal from PTSD (and working hard to do so, I might add). Perhaps you are that person, and feel confused by messages received from people who supposedly love you or are in a position to help. So, just to be sure we’re clear about what PTSD stigmatization sounds like in everyday language, let’s look at these actual statements made to survivors:
Discounting – dismissing or minimizing through comparisons or outright statements
Which sounds like:
It happened so long ago. It’s over now.
How could this have affected you that much?
Just get over it!
Come on now, it wasn’t that bad. Why, I went through. . .
Blaming the survivor – on some level, suspecting the survivor deserved it
Which sounds like:
I guess that’s what you get.
You’re doing this to yourself.
You’ve always been sensitive.
I told you, you shouldn’t have. . .
You signed up for the job and its consequences.
Judgment – forming a negative opinion about the survivor for normal reactions to and ways of coping with the trauma, long-term symptoms or the healing path they choose (notice this list is longer)
Which sounds like:
You’re just doing this for (attention, money, sympathy).
Wow, you’ve got some real mental problems, don’t you?
You spend a lot of time with your friend. Are you gay?
You must not be (praying, repenting, confessing, believing) enough, or you would be healed.
Wow, I wish I had all the time in the world to get massages, go to yoga and hang out with my best friend.
Oh, you’ve always had to learn the hard way.
You just hate men/women!
You know you’re not being a (biblical wife, Proverbs 31 woman, good wife or submitting to your husband) if you withhold sex from him.
Denial of assistance – withholding necessary, expected services or support based on a personal or procedural judgment of the survivor’s need or lack of entitlement
Which sounds like:
Let’s wait and see if you get better.
Well, can you prove it happened?
There are other people who really need assistance.
I’m sorry. You just haven’t demonstrated an urgent need.
If you’re crazy, I’m outta here! I didn’t sign up for that!
You aren’t (praying, reading your Bible, casting out demons, getting to church/temple/synagogue) enough.
You can be sure you are participating in PTSD stigma if you respond in one of the above ways. Whether you’re at work or with your family, if you respond directly to a survivor or comment about PTSD to others in this manner, you’ll become an accomplice.
It might be surprising to realize that if you happen to be a PTSD survivor, and you’re allowing yourself to be treated in this manner or actually buy in to this derogatory perspective, you’re participating in PTSD stigma, too. I can only say these things because I’ve “been there, done that.” Remember, it doesn’t take a spoken word for stigmatization to occur. If you’ve thought it (about yourself or others), it’s already happened.
All stigmatization, regardless of where it comes from or why, feels cruel to a survivor. Sometimes, it is enough to push them over the edge, cause them to give up and take their own life. As you can imagine, for someone who has already suffered so much, it’s not surprising survivors have a hard time overcoming trust issues and have a tendency to isolate themselves.
If you are a PTSD survivor, for the most part, strangers who don’t know your situation may unintentionally say something cruel. However, so can people who love you most. As difficult as it is, you must break free of the isolation associated with PTSD and secure the help of other people.
It’s just plain impossible to heal from PTSD without the care and assistance of others. To be sure you’re making good choices about who you allow on your Healing Team and who you spend your time with during the healing process, please keep the above points in mind.
Our challenge? STOP. THINK B4 U SPEAK. Let’s do our part to bring down the barriers that are keeping our loved ones from asking for and receiving the help they so desperately need. Let’s end the judgment surrounding PTSD and give survivors a fighting chance at a life worth living.
‘Out Of Options’ Veterans With PTSD Hit Pot Underground: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/legal-pot/out-options-veterans-ptsd-hit-pot-underground-n64026
Starbucks CEO Announces $30 Million Gift For U.S. Troops: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/starbucks-ceo-howard-schultz-announces-30-million-gift-for-us-troops/
Why Suicide Rate Among Veterans May Be More Than 22 A Day: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/21/us/22-veteran-suicides-a-day/
PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living (June 2014) http://www.PTSDSelfHelp.com