May 26, 2016

Do We Treat PTSD By Healing America?

Journalist Sebastian Junger has an extremely interesting view on PTSD and how we might address it.

He posits that the armed forces of many other nations have a very low rate of PTSD among their combat troops as opposed to ours (i.e., US armed forces, 50% claim PTSD, whereas in Israel it is only 1% - the Kurds don't have any).

Junger claims that their societies are more supportive than American culture and that our troops would normally recover completely within a few weeks or months if it were not for the screwed social mores of America that tend to isolate from each other.

Video and supporting article here. It's really worth a read.
Now, Junger, who announced his retirement from war reporting soon after Hetherington was killed in Misrata, Libya, during the civil war, is shifting his attention to the home front. His latest book, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” which hit shelves on May 24, takes a hard look at the difficulties veterans face as they transition back into civilian life. Front and center is the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, which Junger believes is overdiagnosed, and, in cases where it’s misdiagnosed, damaging to long-term psychological health. The veteran struggle, he theorizes, has more to do with the nature of American society than it does combat itself.

[...]The irony is that 10% of the U.S. military experiences combat. Something like 50% of the military has applied for PTSD disability. So what’s going on with that 40%? Now, I’m not prepared to be as cynical about that 40% as some people might be. I think an awful lot of those people are honestly describing something that is actually a transition disorder. It isn’t PTSD, but the only vocabulary we have right now is PTSD, so they call it PTSD. And a lot of these people are honest people, and I think they’re probably quite insecure about the fact that they know they were never traumatized, and, yeah, PTSD is the only category that they have available to describe what they’re truly feeling. What they’re truly feeling is this tremendous depression that comes from going from a close-knit communal life to the alienated life of modern society.
You can see the same effect in Peace Corps volunteers. There’s an incredibly high rate of depression among Peace Corps volunteers when they come home. They’re in Guinea, they’re in Sierra Leone, they’re in all these fucked up places. You’d think when they’d get home it’d be this big party. It’s not at all. About half of them struggle with depression afterwards. They don’t call it PTSD because they’re not vets. In their mind, they weren’t traumatized. What they’re really experiencing is the trauma of transitioning from a close-knit life in a village or a platoon to everyone’s living in their own apartment in New York City and contemplating hanging themselves in their closet.
That’s the irony of modern society: As wealth and affluence goes up, independence goes up and so does suicide, and so does depression, and so does all this other stuff.

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