To Normalize: What do we mean by normalize? To say that something is not normal is to imply that it is manufactured, imaginary, or unreal. PTS is the opposite, in that it is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. If you were to witness a traumatic event (a car accident, 9/11, or an act of violence), be involved in a traumatic event (in combat, or as a police officer, fire fighter or first responder) or are a victim of a traumatic event (domestic violence, or child abuse) and you don’t become stressed about it, people might question your sanity or honesty. But when people do feel stressed after a traumatic event, they are shunned and kept at arm’s length. The typical response to someone struggling with a life threatening illness is to offer support, a kind word or a donation to find a cure. PTS is also a life-threatening condition with a range of symptoms from anger to substance abuse all the way to suicidal ideation. Clearly, the appropriate reaction to someone suffering from PTS should be compassion.
To “Civilianize”: When was the last time you heard the term “PTS”? Was it when a veteran committed a crime or was involved with drugs or alcohol? If you believe the media, you would think that the military owns the term PTS. That is simply not true. Actually, a wide swath of the civilian population struggle with PTS, and very much like members of our military, they manage it in silence and often alone. Today, if a veteran were to pass you in the street with a t-shirt that said “I have PTS,” you might cross the street. But what if a fireman or ER nurse had the same message? Our first responder community deals with traumatic events on a more regular basis and over a longer period of time than most veterans. But we do not feel threatened by fire fighters or ER nurses. Why should a young combat veteran be treated any differently? If civilians who struggle with PTS ask for help or tell their stories, it is more likely that veterans will do the same. Our hope is that the next time you hear about PTS, you will say, “hold on a second, that young man/woman might be simply struggling with stress after some trauma they experienced.”
Eliminating the Stigma: People struggling with PTS, which might manifest itself through anger, drinking, drugs, or feeling suicidal, are reluctant to raise their hands and say, “I need a little help here.” While some people may disagree, we hold that it is as much the stigma that kills as the actual PTS symptoms. The lack of education, understanding and support is directly responsible for those suffering with PTS to reach high levels of despondency before they are treated. And the treatment they are typically offered is almost always less effective than early intervention, or even better, prevention would have been. Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done for those struggling with PTS.
We know what PTS is, we know how to support those who struggle with it and we are learning more each and every day about protocols that make PTS manageable. Will it ever go away? Probably not. But we can start to manage it by executing a national/global outreach and awareness program.
Today there is a propensity to medicate, and in many cases overmedicate, those struggling with PTS. Alternatively, there are hundreds of (non-pharmacological) support teams who offer alternative healing protocols that have been proven to work, adaptive sports, buddy systems, peer support groups, coffee shop meetings and many more. Many of the teams who provide PTS related support will tell you that the hardest thing for them is to find those who are struggling, as well as willing to be open and honest about their status. Until we embrace those who are struggling with PTS, the stigma will stand as truth, and cure options – and in all too many cases the morgue – will be kept busy.
If we are to change the narrative as it relates to PTS, we must be careful that we don’t increase the stigma by highlighting it and making it even more prominent. To reduce this risk we are going to use Challenge Coins and PTS cause bracelets to introduce a less depressing component into our program that encourages dialogue, team work and community.
In closing, we don’t need to spend decades of time or billions of dollars to change the narrative when it comes to PTS. We can do it now for pennies on the dollar. By focusing on prevention through education instead of waiting until more intensive treatments and emergency measures are needed, we can reverse the damaging effects of PTS.
All we/you have to do is raise our voices and clearly state, “we understand what you are dealing with and are ready to help, if you simply raise your hand and give us the chance.”
If you are struggling with PTS, know someone who is, or have lost someone to PTS-related issues, or you simply want to learn more — please connect with us and start the dialogue by registering with us at:
Rick J. Collins