Heroes and Victims
Our understanding of PTSD has become so broadly applied and focused on victimhood that it ignores the ways that surviving trauma can actually help some people.
Everywhere you look these days, you see PTSD. The best estimates tell us that only around fifteen percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental health condition characterized by hyperarousal and nightmares, but the feeling one gets is that there’s an epidemic gripping the nation and that every veteran has it or soon will. Recently, however, some prominent veterans have begun pushing back against this narrative. One such veteran, retired four-star general James Mattis, speaking at the Marine Memorial Foundation, said, “You’ve been told that you are broken, that you’re damaged goods...I don’t buy it.”
A condition that went unacknowledged for millennia and only began its public life thirty-four years ago when it first entered the DSM, PTSD has spread to every corner of our culture, becoming in the words of one medical anthropologist, a kind of “psychiatric Esperanto.” Movie critics wonder if Batman has it. In April, Sean Guillory, a writer at The New Republic even suggested that all of Russia might be suffering from it. There are even commemorative PTSD patches that consumers can purchase online for $5.99 that read, “P.T.S.D.: Some Wounds Aren’t Visible.”