PTSD: The Disorder That Dare not Speak its Name

Posted on December 7, 2017

Ian Foulkes is our first contributing Blogger.  He draws on his experiences and highlights a major issue for many:

I have PTSD. There you are, I’ve said it. But it took me years to admit to myself that I had a problem and when I did I felt a failure in some way that I could not identify. These are pretty typical reactions to the issue, apparently. So I’m not alone!

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a subject that has only recently come into the public domain and is now (thankfully!) being openly discussed. But this was not always so. Even today, because of it’s mental health implications, and my parents generational attitudes towards such a taboo subject, they are reluctant to discuss my issues directly. When my dad heard a radio interview that my family and I were interviewed for, he broke down crying. So PTSD isn’t just about me, it affects my family as well…

We can find references to PTSD in literature all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Ever since mankind made killing their fellow man it’s favourite hobby it’s been there. PTSD has had many names, such as “Shell Shock”, “Battle Fatigue” “Shell Happy”, “Battle Shock” and so on. The authorities also did not like to admit it’s existence, it looked bad! So counter terms were used to describe the individual, like “WIMP” (Weak In Military Potential) or “LMF” (Lack of Moral Fibre) or just plain, straight forward, “coward”.

This attitude was further compounded by the attitude of society at that time. I can remember the “Mental Asylums”, “Nut houses” or “Looney bins” as they were disparagingly called, and I’m only in my early 50’s! The stigma attached to the individuals of being called by society as a “nutter” was also reflected on the family themselves. Understandable, therefore, families would not discuss the issue. So society itself formed a policy of silence.

Fortunately these attitudes are starting to be overturned, albeit slowly. Most prominently (and most welcome) has been the work of both Prince Harry and Prince William, who are pretty much blazing a new trail of openness and understanding towards the disorder. It is the work of such high profile personalities that is helping to change society’s perceptions on this topic. As so often is the case, PTSD as a specific mental issue started to be identified in America amongst Vietnam veterans in the 1970’s. Again this was a taboo subject in the US but even more so in the UK, which has lagged behind America. When I was coming to the end of my service – I left in 1999 – PTSD was still not discussed at unit level, only by the medical services. Even then the Army did not like discharging an individual as being traumatised, because of the stigma of leaving the Army due to what society saw as a mental defect and the affect it might have with Veterans trying to get jobs. This was a reverse osmosis process of societies silent attitude influencing the military.

Combat Stress (established in 1919) has been instrumental in bringing this subject out into the open. Research has shown that PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It does not just affect a certain type of person but covers a broad spectrum of personalities and characters. Male or Female, PTSD knows no bounds. It does not necessarily manifest itself immediately after the root cause but can take years, even decades to manifest itself. It is as individual to the sufferer as that person’s fingerprints.

Individuals themselves can be the block to discussing openly the problem. A common feeling amongst suffers can be one of feeling that they are weak, or will be stigmatised by admitting they have a problem. This attitude has led to the break up of marriages, violence, alcoholism, substance abuse (or drug addiction as we used to call it – alcoholism is now in this category) unnecessary risk taking and, all to often, suicide.

At long last the services have started to take a proactive approach. Specially trained individuals at all rank levels who can talk freely with those recently in a traumatic situation helps with what is now known as “decompression”. By talking to a colleague of equal rank there is a “level” conversation, not one of talking “up” to a senior rank, or being talked “down” to by a senior. It is a friendly chat with a colleague.

Society is at long last dragging its attitude from one of the 19th century to that of the 21st. But there is still along way to go. Sadly, it is mainly charities such as Combat Stress and PTSD Resolution that are leading the way. Parliament itself has almost abdicated any responsibility and has failed to meet it’s own “Armed Forces Covenant”. Those serving get help (quite rightly) from the Forces. But those who have left are dependant on treatment provided by charities.

So what can be done to change this?  What can the individual do?  What can society do?  Why doesn’t the Government do something to address the problem?  More importantly, what do YOU think?

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