Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Vital Question of the Public’s Perception of Combat-Related PTSD

During the last few days I’ve been cced on a series of emails between Dan Stepel, the 47-year-old U.S. Marine veteran who will be undertaking the 12,000 mile PTSD Walk Across America, and someone who has designed a clothing item that features a humorous slogan about PTSD.

We’ll call the person George, and I won’t mention the slogan except to say that in Dan’s perception (and mine, I admit) the joke slogan denigrates the seriousness of PTSD.

Dan emailed George explaining why this particular humorous slogan could be detrimental to the public perception of PTSD, and George responded by saying veterans to whom he has shown the clothing item think the slogan funny.

Here’s what I then wrote to George with a cc to Dan:

I believe the two of you are speaking about apples and oranges.

This belief is based on the last two years in which I have interviewed people on BlogTalkRadio and written numerous blog posts about PTSD and the horrible statistics related to it, including terrible wife abuse, high numbers of suicide, withdrawal from loved ones, etc.

(Do a search for PTSD on my site

Here are the apples and oranges:

The apples are veterans that you [George] come in contact with who, I suspect, either do not personally know the terrible ravages of PTSD or who, luckily, have been able to get adequate treatment for it. These are veterans who can indeed laugh at the sentiment on your [clothing item].

The oranges are the active-duty military personnel and their families plus the veterans and their families who are currently living with the terribleness of PTSD either because they can't or don't get treatment or because the treatment they are getting is not effective.

I believe that, if you took a survey among all the PTSD-support organizations that I have come across in the last two years, you would find that most people would agree with Dan's sentiment for one very simple reason:

Every time a joke is made of PTSD -- thus possibly convincing a military person that he/she should be able to take care of the devastating symptoms himself/herself (the macho factor plus fear of military career reprisal) -- the joke may be consigning a military personnel to killing himself/herself or irreparably harming his/her spouse, children or other loved ones.

I strong urge you to read some of my blog posts before you so lightly dismiss what Dan wrote you. I am convinced that, after reading these blog posts, you will consider seriously the ramifications of making light about the brutal reality of PTSD.

Unfortunately, what veterans at the VA can laugh about does not extend to people grappling day-to-day with the terrible turmoil of PTSD. And when those veterans who can laugh wear your proposed [clothing item] out into the rest of the world, the stage is set for some truly terrible consequences.

Why not, instead, come up with a saying on the [clothing item] that could encourage people to get the help that they so desperately need?

How about:


Got treatment?

[This was the end of my email response. If you have an opinion on this subject, please share it in the comments below. And for information on the symptoms of PTSD, see]

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. Her newest military-related project is supporting the upcoming PTSD Walk Across America.Phyllis' social media marketing company Miller Mosaic Power Marketing combines traditional marketing principles and Internet marketing strategies to put power in your hands. Read her social media marketing blog.


Anita Holsapple, MS said...


Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this situation. Coming from someone who has dealt with PTSD within my own family, it is indeed a serious issue which should never be taken lightly.
PTSD is so often misunderstood, and often becomes an overused "catchphrase" of a multitude of symptoms, such as anxiety, anger, depression, etc. However its effects are real, its psychological, physiological and emotional toll is very real. This injury is never just a singular strike, it ripples like a stone tossed in a quiet lake. Those suffering from such disorders impact the lives of all those they encounter, especially loved ones. Its our responsibility as a nation to help those affected by such injuries, they need our support, not our jokes, our jeers or dismissive attitudes. There is already a stigma attached to mental health issues, and to malign it further to t-shirt jokes and late night routines, is a slap in the face to all those who are enduring such pain.
Granted, many have masked pain and uncomfortable situations through humor, however such actions can also cause us to continue the stigma by ignoring the magnitude and importance of treating such injuries and the people that suffer from them, including us family members.

Anita Holsapple, MS

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

Anita --

Thank you so much for leaving this valuable contribution to this PTSD blog post. I hope people reading the blog post and then your contribution will be encouraged to seek help for PTSD if they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

And while I did not say this in the blog post, people can get PTSD from trauma experiences other than combat-related experiences. So it's very important for all of us to know the symptoms of PTSD and be able to recognize them in people around us.


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