The headlines are all too familiar to military and veteran families. It’s gotten to the point where the moment you hear that the shooter is former military the connections start to be made immediately: “Shooter suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his military service.” Boom. There it is.
Both the shooters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas were military veterans. Both, according to news reports, potentially have PTSD. Our community is once again in the spotlight, furthering societal perceptions that our service members are all damaged, broken and ready to snap at any moment.
This is far from accurate.
I’m a clinical psychologist. My specialty is trauma and PTSD. I have worked in that space for over a decade now with both military and civilian populations. Given my experience, I can tell you that by and large, the majority of veterans who suffer from PTSD do not “snap.” They are more likely to turn inward, to isolate. When there are outward signs, it affects family life more than anything else.
Many suffer in silence. Others get treatment and actually get better. It’s not all doom and gloom. PTSD is a complex diagnosis and can even be a misdiagnosis with many actually suffering from depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders or even personality disorders, which can mimic many of the symptoms of PTSD.
Also important to note is that carrying a diagnosis of PTSD does not cause violence. Anger and irritability could be a symptom, along with experiencing nightmares, feelings of detachment, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance and more. Just like diagnoses are complex so are people. Life experiences shape all of us. We’ll never know what exactly caused these two men to commit the acts of violence that they did—the truth is it’s probably a combination of factors—but making a direct link from one to the other is a big problem.
Making that leap and splashing sensationalistic headlines causes a lot of harm to our community that has far-reaching ramifications. The immediate connection that is often made in the press about these types of situations perpetuates the stereotype of a veteran waiting to snap. This can (and often does) affect hiring decisions, interpersonal relationships and overall perceptions of our community.
To change perceptions we need to start talking more openly and honestly about mental illness. The good, the bad and everything in between. Yes, our service members struggle, but there are also success stories of the overwhelming majority who do get better. We need to challenge the stereotypes that only serve to further damage our community with open and honest dialogue. A realistic viewpoint can go a long way. Incidents like these do not define us as a community.
Posetd by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline Project Manager