The media and mental health: A look at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
By Emanuel Fernandez
Everest Opinion Editor
For those people, the past endures, maintaining a vice-like grip on their life. They are haunted by a constant reminder of that event, either flashbacks or nightmares. This is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental ailment that is created by encountering a traumatic experience, such as, but not restricted to, acts of intense violence, accidents or deaths.
People who suffer from PTSD suffer from a range of various symptoms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these symptoms include re-experiencing trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, lack of emotion, insomnia, social phobia, being easily irritated or angered and an increased fight-or-flight reaction.
Emotionally, PTSD can also stimulate feelings of guilt and depression. When this occurs, people sometimes turn to substance abuse or self-harm. This, unfortunately, leads to suicidal thoughts, and, in extreme cases, actual death by suicide.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, therapy treatment for PTSD comes from two different types of therapy; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a blanket term of therapy that involves changing the thought patterns that disturb your life. Most of the basis for this type of therapy happens by talking through the traumatic event to find where your fears stem from.
Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT, is a more scrutinous process of therapy. This process involves not only talking through your trauma but writing it out as well. The reason for this is to examine how you think about your trauma and find new ways to live with it.
Other forms of therapy include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR uses visual and audio stimulants whilst one remembers a traumatic event to think of something positive while you recount the event.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) is another type of therapy and another form of CBT. SIT consists of practicing breathing exercises and meditation to relax your mind and body.
The most common way to treat PTSD is through medication. The medications work to regulate the brain’s chemistry, so they are commonly prescribed to patients suffering from nightmares and constant states of fight-or-flight. These medications include Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, Sertraline and Venlafaxine.
The Mayo Clinic lists some more common medication that can be used if the symptoms are not as severe. Things such as anti-depressants and diazepam are commonly sought out medications for those affected by PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD might be fairly simple, but it also proves very effective if treated regularly. If you suspect that you or a loved one could be suffering from the effects of PTSD, seek help immediately.
The Reality of PTSD
To get an idea of what living with PTSD is like, I wanted to interview my neighbor, who saw extensive combat in the army. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, my neighbor fell ill and passed away early last year.
I was able to interview his daughter as a sort of character witness, as she lived next door to him and visited him often. Out of respect for the family and the daughter’s request for anonymity, I will refer to the daughter as “Jane” and her father as “the Gunnery Seargent.”
“To be honest, the whole stereotype of being crazy and dangerous is a load of [garbage],” Jane stated. “ I’ve been to some of the support meetings he goes to, and everybody there were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
The Gunnery Sergent experienced the Vietnam War first-hand. He developed PTSD from combat but had been managing it through therapy and medication. I asked Jane about any symptoms he suffered: “He did have trouble sleeping, but it wasn’t as big of a deal because his doctor prescribed him pills.”
Jane also mentioned that he was jumpy at times: “ It’s mostly when there’s loud popping, like fireworks or anything that mimics gunfire. Other than that, he didn’t show any of the other signs they say that people like him show.” Although the Gunnery Seargent had to live with his condition, he seemed to have enjoyed life up until he fell ill.
Another form of PTSD is Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). According to the Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Guide, ASD is defined as trauma or stressor-related disorder with an onset three days to one month (direct exposure or indirectly experienced), characterized by intrusive memories, avoidance of associated stimuli, and changes in mood and arousal that impair daily functioning.
The effects of ASD are similar to those of PTSD, except they don’t have a lasting effect. They usually last only a while after the stress was experienced, whether it was first-hand or second-hand.
Last year, a group of masked assailants came to the front parking lot and assaulted a student. I will fully disclose now that I personally know the student assaulted and was assaulted that day for attempting to defend the student.
The only reason I bring up this story is that it happened in front of the school a little after we were dismissed, meaning almost half of the whole school was witness to the events that unfolded that day.
I asked another student, who will remain anonymous, how she felt after she witnessed the event. “At first, when I saw [the student] hit the ground, my hands began shaking badly, and my heart was racing.”
It was evident that she began to get a bit uncomfortable when I asked her these questions, and, being a part of the actual event, I didn’t blame her. “After the fight broke out, I got picked up to go home. Just as I left I saw the flashing lights of the police cars pulling up.”
“ I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of [the student]’s head hitting the pavement. For a few weeks after, that feeling of nervousness followed me closely; but, thank God, I got over it after a while.” I personally thanked the student for the interview and apologized for any discomfort that she felt.
The reason I included this story was that it gives an example of a form of PTSD that is not as severe but still affects people who witness a traumatic event.
Mental Health Stigma
According to the Mayo Clinic, stigma is classified as viewing someone or a group of people negatively because of distinguishing characteristic or personal trait. For people who suffer from mental illness, the stigma against them is fairly common.
Stigma can be obvious or subconscious, meaning that the person portraying the stigma might or might not be aware that they are discriminating against people who suffer from mental illnesses. Most of the stigma that occurs against people with PTSD occurs because most people believe that sufferers of PTSD are volatile and dangerous.
Stigma can be particularly dangerous for those who suffer from PTSD, as fear of judgment will not only affect the sufferer’s confidence and emotional stability, it will also make them less likely to seek help as they don’t want to accept the fact that they suffer from a mental illness.
Suffering from PTSD can also put a person at a disadvantage when it comes to looking for work. Not only does this affect the sufferer’s emotions, but this also makes it difficult to live in general.
PTSD in the Media
The media’s skewed perspective on those who suffer from PTSD has caused common people to view victims of PTSD as crazy and dangerous. Although films and TV shows mainly contribute to this, news also plays a hand in creating stigma.
Most movies and TV shows we watch mainly portray soldiers as the sole sufferers from PTSD. While they do tend to portray PTSD symptoms accurately, they fail to realize that soldiers aren’t the only people susceptible to PTSD.
A recurring motif in the movies deals with veterans returning home from combat and suffering from PTSD. Again, the portrayal of the symptoms are accurate, yet they are sometimes exaggerated in the films to elicit a reaction from the audience. The exceptions to this list are “American Sniper,” and recently “Thank You For Your Service,” as these movies are based on real-life events.
A few shows demonstrate veterans who suffer from PTSD and portray them as crazed, homicidal maniacs. One such example of this comes from Netflix exclusive show “The Punisher.” The character of Lewis Wilson in the show suffers from PTSD and seeks to return to combat after being discharged.
When rejected, he begins a crusade to fight for his Second Amendment rights. He takes his beliefs too far when he begins mailing bombs to various government agencies.
In a more recent and realistic case, the Thousand Oaks shooting is a prime example of the media’s stigma. The shooter was identified as Ian Long, a 28-year-old retired Marine Corps veteran. Long began opening fire at the Borderline Bar and Grill on Nov. 7 of last year. About 13 people were killed in the shooting, and the shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Questions about his mental state began to arise before all the facts were presented. Immediately, many began to cite PTSD as the motivating factor of the shooting and saying that this idea was further strengthened by the fact that the shooter claimed his own life afterward.
In the end, it’s important to remember that people with PTSD aren’t dangerous. They aren’t violent or time bombs that are waiting to explode; they are normal human beings like us. Instead of helping their symptoms get worse, why don’t we help them get better? Sometimes all a person needs is someone to talk to, so be slow to speak and ready to listen. Maybe they’re tired of being treated differently, so treat them as you would your friends. We all want to live easily, so why don’t we make life easier for each other?
If you or a loved one might be suffering from PTSD, seek help immediately by clicking one of the following links:
*PTSD Alliance.org: Information about what PTSD is and some signs to detect it. For Veterans, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1.800.273.8255.
*American Psychiatric Nurses Association: Resource with multiple links to follow about dispelling myths and treatment options.
*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Signs and symptoms of PTSD and treatment options.
Featured image (at the top of this post): This image was provided by PlusLexia.com.