With all the controversy surrounding the movie American Sniper, one point is not getting enough attention: the societal effects of untreated PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disabling condition resulting from severe stress or trauma. It’s common in war veterans but also affects rape victims, survivors of domestic violence, child abuse victims and others. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, depression and difficulty concentrating. Sufferers often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
A minority of patients exhibit violent or aggressive behavior as a result of the condition. This aggression may occur without warning and can be lethal. (The documentary Beer Is Cheaper Than Therapy offers a frightening view of soldiers struggling to adjust to civilian life after returning from war).
The fact that Chris Kyle–the most lethal sniper in U.S. history–was killed on U.S. soil by a fellow veteran is a tragic irony that deserves attention. There’s a reason the term “cycle of violence” exists. Whether it’s an abusive parent who was abused as a child or a violent spouse who experienced violence in a warzone, the costs of untreated PTSD are immense. How many violent criminals have PTSD as a result of childhood abuse? How many good people have had their psyches destroyed by unnecessary violence at home and abroad? Unfortunately, we don’t have the statistics to answer those questions, but it’s safe to assume the number is high.
The medications used to treat PTSD leave a lot to be desired. At best, they provide modest improvement in mood and anxiety; at worst, they could trigger a worsening of the condition. Recent studies into the benefits of MDMA and cannabis on PTSD look promising. There is still no cure.
When it comes to PTSD, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Adult trauma survivors should seek counseling to work through their problems before having children (and after). Agencies like the VA must make treatment easily accessible to soldiers returning from war. Teachers should learn to recognize the signs of abuse in children and report them to the proper authorities immediately. Remember, the person suffering can’t always speak up for themselves.
PTSD is as much a social problem as an individual one. Sufferers deserve empathy and respect, not fear and stigma. Treatment is an ongoing process that is worth the effort. This is one condition where burying your feelings can have deadly consequences.