Tag Archives: posttraumatic stress disorder

A Bill to Explore the Relationship Between Veteran Suicides and Prescription Medication

On September 28, US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill in the Senate titled Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act (S. 3410).  This is a companion bill to HR 4640, Veteran Suicide Prevention Act introduced in the House by Congressman David Jolly (R-FL) earlier this year.  The objective of both bills is to combat suicide deaths by ensuring that accurate information is available on the relationship between suicides and prescription “medication”.  At the present time, 20 US veterans a day are dying by suicide.

In a September 28 press release, Senator McCain is quoted:

“‘Combatting this [suicide] epidemic will require the best research and understanding about the key causes of veteran suicide, including whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths. This legislation would authorize an independent review of veterans who died of suicide or a drug overdose over the last five years to ensure doctors develop safe and effective treatment plans for their veteran patients. We have a long way to go to eradicate veteran suicide, but this legislation builds on important efforts to end the tragedy that continues to claim far too many lives far too soon.'”

Clearly in the press release there is an emphasis on opioid pain-killers, but the problem of psychiatric drugs is also addressed in the bill.  The bill mandates

“…a review of the deaths of all covered veterans who died by suicide during the five-year period ending on the date of the enactment of this Act.”

and the review shall include:

“(E) A comprehensive list of prescribed medications and legal or illegal substances as annotated on toxicology reports of covered veterans described in subparagraphs (A) through (C), specifically listing any medications that carried a black box warning, were prescribed for off-label use, were psychotropic, or carried warnings that included suicidal ideation.” [Emphasis added]

The bill clearly covers all psychiatric drugs.

On March 2, 2016, Congressman Jolly issued a press release which contained the following:

“‘It is critical that we understand whether there is any impact of certain psychiatric drugs prescribed for issues like P.T.S.D., depression or traumatic brain injuries, on the decision of a veteran to take their own life,’ Jolly said. ‘With veterans dying by suicide at a heartbreaking rate, we need to take a hard look at all possible factors in order to help prevent these tragedies.’

Specifically, the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act would require the VA to record the total number of veterans who have died by suicide during the past five years, compile a comprehensive list of the medications prescribed to and found in the systems of such veterans at the time of their deaths, and report which Veterans Health Administration facilities have disproportionately high rates of psychiatric drug prescription and suicide among veterans treated at those facilities.  The VA would then be required to submit to Congress a publicly available report on the results of their review, along with their plan of action for improving the safety and well-being of veterans.”

The wording of the House Bill is essentially similar to that of the Senate Bill.

SIGNIFICANCE

Psychiatric drugs are poisons.  They poison the brains and other organs of those who take them.  In some cases, the adverse effects are slow, often taking years, or even decades, to become obvious.  But in certain cases, the poisoning is rapid and catastrophic.  The facts of this matter have been systematically suppressed by psychiatry, and by their pharmaceutical allies, for decades.

This great lie, this monumental hoax, is the soft underbelly of psychiatry.  And it is on this great lie that their self-serving drug-pushing empire will ultimately crumble.  The bills introduced by Sen. McCain and Rep. Jolly have the potential to begin this process.

I think we can be reasonably certain that at this time, psychiatry and pharma are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to kill these companion bills.  Skids are being greased with ill-gotten largesse; favors are being called in; lawmakers in vulnerable seats are being canvassed by pharma’s check-writers; and so on.  Every effort that money can buy is being used to kill or gut these bills.

So please, if you live in the US, write to your legislators (Senate and House), and ask them to support these bills:

Senate:             S 3410             Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act

House:             HR 4640         Veteran Suicide Prevention Act

Also, please consider writing to Senator McCain and Congressman Jolly, thanking them for this initiative and outlining its importance.

Depleted to Undefeated: PTSD and Me

This post was submitted by a reader.

The basis of my story is rooted in my own, unique experience with medical and psychiatric treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This writing is not intended to convince or influence the necessity or use of mental health professionals. Rather, it is my perspective of what did, is, or will contribute to my personal journey towards a permanently healthier mental state.

Coping with and witnessing the sudden, horrific death of my husband led, eventually, to a diagnosis of PTSD. One day I was a content and peaceful wife, mother, and church member. Suddenly, my world turned into a nightmare when my husband was diagnosed with a condition known as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). Basically, it is a disease in which the body sheds its skin. It is a rare disease, most often caused by an adverse reaction to a prescription medication (as was the case with my husband).

In my situation, the disease came on swiftly. My husband went from robust and healthy to death in thirteen days. While the disease was probably doing damage months before, it did not manifest itself outwardly right away. When it did, I watched, shocked and terrified, as he was skinned alive. The disease eventually took 90 percent of his skin along with his earthly life.

As the months passed, I began to have increasingly strange and dangerous thoughts and behaviors. I passed them off as normal grief and sadness until they began to be more frequent and bizarre, including intense suicidal ideations and attempts, despite a supportive family and faith based lifestyle. In my case, when the harmful behaviors became overwhelming, I decided to seek treatment, despite being raised in a community which frowned upon mental health treatment.

Close to five years have passed since these traumatic events occurred. During this time I have been in behavioral health therapy, psychotherapy, as well as taking prescription medication.  Additionally, I have been surrounded with excellent support and love from my close knit family. And although my faith has been damaged to some degree, I am on the road to whatever spiritual recovery is in my destiny.

I can most definitely say that I have recovered to the extent that my quality of life has greatly improved. Still, I continue to have the symptoms related to PTSD such as anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks and the like. On the other hand, I am able to attempt to accomplish things, both small and large, that even the thought of such would have sent me into debilitating fear previously. For instance, I was able to write my memoir, PTSD and the Undefeated Me, earlier this year. However, the promotion of the book proves to be a challenge because of my symptoms.

The valid questions in my scenario include: Has psychiatric intervention, therapy, or medication been the cause of the progress I’ve made so far? Is it simply the passage of time that allows me to face new challenges? Are my loved ones and supporters the primary incentive for me to keep fighting? What about my spiritual beliefs; how does my weakened faith play a part in my wholeness?

I have concluded that my journey to wholeness is like a three legged table. My life is not as sturdy or structured as it can be, but I can achieve a certain balance using one of any of the above to prop it up.  Sometimes that fourth leg is family, friends, and my faith. Other times I find it necessary to reach out for professional help to get through a particularly rough time. As of this writing, I don’t discount any means of help. To me, they all contribute to my successes if I continue to maintain awareness of what I really need in any given circumstance. However, I can definitely say that my goal is to someday no longer need mental health services to maintain balance.

Sheila Kay ©2015

PTSD: The Spurious Medicalization of Painful Memories

BACKGROUND

I’ve recently read Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters (Free Press, 2010).

It’s a great book, the theme of which is that western countries, especially America, are exporting the medicalization of human problems to less developed regions of the world.  The new “illnesses” are being avidly promoted as if they had the same kind of reality as pneumonia or cancer, and are being foisted on vulnerable populations, with little regard for their impact on the cultures, ideas, sensitivities, and health of the recipients.

The author discusses four examples of this kind of “illness” exportation: anorexia in Hong Kong in the 90’s; PTSD in Sri Lanka in 2005; schizophrenia as a brain illness in Zanzibar; and the marketing of depression as an illness in Japan in the early 2000’s.

All sections of the book are worth reading, but for the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on the exporting of western-style PTSD to Sri Lanka in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami that took about 250,000 lives.

What brought PTSD to Sri Lanka was the large number of trauma counselors who rushed to the tsunami disaster zone armed with PTSD checklists and western “knowledge” of this “illness.”  They carried within them a certainty that if the survivors of the tsunami weren’t “properly” debriefed, they would suffer devastating psychological consequences for years, or even for the rest of their lives.  The western crusaders routinely ignored the fact that the people in Sri Lanka had a long history of coping with disaster (natural and man-made).  The methods traditionally used by Sri Lankans to cope with tragedy were dismissed by most of the PTSD proselytizers as irrelevant, and even as evidence of denial!

Here are some quotes from the chapter in question:

“Mental health professionals around the world were telling reporters that millions of people would soon be suffering the debilitating effects of PTSD.” (p 69)

“Seldom considered in our rush to help treat the psychic wounds of traumatized people was the question of whether PTSD was a diagnosis that could be usefully applied in all human cultures.” (p 71)

“Traumatologists have also advanced the idea that psychological rehabilitation is best managed by mental health experts, certified in and sensitized to Western understanding of how humans suffer and heal.  The post-tsunami intervention would prove to be a crucible for these Western certainties.” (p 73)

“The drug company Pfizer was quick to get in the mix as well.  In early February 2005, just over a month after the disaster, the company sponsored a symposium in Bangkok titled ‘After the Tsunami: Mental Health Challenges to the Community for Today and Tomorrow.’  Professor [Jonathan] Davidson…predicting pathology rates of 50 to 90 percent, helped organize the conference with an ‘unrestricted grant’ from the company.” (p 80)

“He [Professor Davidson] described PTSD as ‘a severe, chronic, and disabling condition with major consequences for the individual and society,’ but assured his audience that antidepressants such as Pfizer’s Zoloft could become ‘an effective tool in promoting the long-term psychological and psychosocial health and economic recovery of those in the region affected by the tsunami.’  Zoloft, he reported, had been shown to reduce anger after the first week of treatment and lessen ’emotional upset’ by week six.” (p 80)

“A radio, TV, and newspaper ad campaign was launched to make the population aware of what psychological consequences to expect, and posters of the PTSD symptom list were placed in schools, community buildings, police stations, churches, and grocery stores.” (p 106)

“Despite the public and professional certainty that counselors and debriefers should rush in after disasters to treat traumatized populations, there was one problem: there was little evidence that such efforts helped.” (p 118)

“Early interventions sometimes appeared to be priming victims to experience certain symptoms.  ‘When dealing with people after an accident we need to remember that emotionally aroused people are suggestible,’ David Brown, a psychologist from Australia wrote later in the British Medical Journal.  ‘If we suggest they might feel angry, it is likely to come true.'” (p 118)

As I was reading this chapter, I was struck obviously by the crass arrogance of the pharma-supported trauma “experts” who, because they had memorized the APA’s facile symptom list, somehow imagined that they could teach these resilient people how to cope with tragedy.

But I was also struck by the fact that this is exactly what happened here in America after the Vietnam War.  From time immemorial, soldiers have come home from war with truly horrible memories, and have dealt with these memories using the concepts, skills, and support groups that were available to them in their families and in their communities.

But PTSD changed all that.  The horrific memories became an illness which needs to be “treated” by experts – and the first-line “treatment,” of course, is drugs.  People who have experienced psychological trauma are given the message that they cannot deal with this from their own resources, and protestations of resilience and ability to cope, are characterized as denial.

In Crazy Like Us, Ethan Watters touches on this aspect of the matter:

“Indeed, many have pointed out that we are now a culture that has a suspicion of resilience and emotional reserve.” (p 123)

The fact is that traumatic memories – no matter how severe – are not illnesses in any meaningful sense of the term.  The notion that they are illnesses is psychiatry/pharma propaganda, and the fact that the fiction is so widely accepted (and even being exported) is a tribute to the resources that psychiatry/pharma can bring to bear in promoting their self-serving agenda.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Americans have been returning home from wars since before the country was born, and were re-adjusting successfully to civilian life using their own resources and community support.

Nor is the experience of disaster confined to the military.   Civilians in all ages have experienced devastating floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, murders, rapes, accidents, etc…

Tragedy, sooner or later, touches us all, and sometimes the nature and circumstances of these encounters can be truly horrific.

But through all of this, people have coped.  They’ve coped by drawing on their own resources and the support of family, friends, mentors (religious and secular), and even random strangers. They’ve drawn strength from embraces, whispered condolences, and graveside rituals.  We all know that any of us can be touched by terrible tragedy, and we reach out individually and collectively to offer comfort to those in grief.

But psychiatry undermines all of this.  The horror-struck soldier returning from war – he has an illness – a broken brain – he needs drugs.

The children who witnessed their parents being killed in a car accident – they also have a brain illness – they need drugs.

The mother who saw her three children carried off to their deaths by floodwaters – she has a brain illness – she needs drugs.

This tawdry, spurious medicalization of tragedy trivializes human suffering, undermines the dignity of the sufferer, and relegates him or her to the status of drug customer.

The psychiatrists contend that they only offer their “treatments” to those who really need them, but they ignore the fact that it was their propaganda coupled with pharmaceutical advertizing that created the need in the first place.  It was their propaganda that convinced people that they were “broken” and needed “medication.”

It might be argued that the psychiatric-pharma “solution” works, and that this is really all that matters.  But reading the various reports from the VA, it’s easy to get the impression that the “treatment” is not enjoying unqualified success.

On April 23, a panel of PTSD experts presented a seminar on PTSD to the general public at Cumberland County Public Library in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  One of the presenters, Kevin Smythe, PsyD, a supervisory psychologist with the Mental Health Service Line at the Fayetteville VA, is reported (on fayobserver.com) as saying that there is no way to cure post-traumatic stress disorder, but that those suffering from it can learn to manage it.

For me – that sounds awfully like:  “you must take the pills for life.”  Where have we heard that before?

Incidentally military.com picked up the piece and ran it, and it generated some interesting comments, most of which appear to come from military or ex-military people.  A good proportion of the comments express the belief that drugs are not the answer.  Some of the commenters maintain that there is a good measure of fraud in the system: i.e. people pursuing a “diagnosis” of PTSD in order to qualify for disability benefits.

On that topic, incidentally, I’ve come across two interesting Australian reports, courtesy of Nanu.  The first, dated March 27, 2013, predicts a “tidal wave” of PTSD cases as Australian troops are brought home from Afghanistan.  The other report, however, which was published two years earlier (Jan 6, 2011), quotes a senior military doctor as saying that up to 90% of PTSD claims are fraudulent.

Obviously people will dispute these perspectives.  But the fact remains that virtually every “diagnosis” in the DSM can be faked by anyone with a modicum of imagination and resourcefulness.

That, however, is not the main issue.  Even the individuals who aren’t actually consciously trying to game the system are not sick.  They do not have an illness.  What they have are painful memories and unresolved grief.

Once psychiatric muscle and pharmaceutical money had achieved acceptance of these so-called illnesses, the government had little choice but to qualify the affected individuals for benefits.  If you’re sick, you’re sick!  The AMA, incidentally, according to Wikipedia, “has one of the largest political lobbying budgets of any organization in the United States.”

When the APA invented this “illness”, they opened two equally tragic doorways.  Firstly, they encouraged distressed people to think of themselves as broken; secondly, they created a situation in which people are encouraged to fake the symptoms for the sake of a disability pension.

The tragedy of the first group is that they are disempowered, and end up taking toxic drugs, often for years.  The tragedy for the second group is that they settle for an unproductive, aimless life in return for a small pension.

The beneficiaries, as usual, are the psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry.

 

DSM and Disability

Every society in every generation makes errors.  Some of the errors are minor.  Some are major.  One of the great errors of the 20th century was this:  we accepted the spurious notion that a wide range of life’s problems were in fact illnesses.  This spurious notion was initiated with good intentions – to provide shelter and humanitarian care for a relatively small number of individuals whose plight was truly dreadful.  But then the concept of mental illness took off, fuelled largely by the efforts of psychiatrists to legitimize their status as “real” doctors.

And then came the drug companies, who formed an alliance with the psychiatrists.  These mutually enchanted partners have been dancing heel-to-toe ever since, accumulating wealth and power to the great detriment of individuals and society.

Once it was firmly established that a wide range of ordinary problems of living were “really” diseases, it was a relatively easy step to conclude that individuals manifesting these problems might qualify for disability benefits under programs established by various governments.  In the United States the government entity involved is the Social Security Administration, and at the present time the following “diagnostic” categories are grounds for a disability determination.

Organic mental disorders

Schizophrenic, paranoid, and other psychotic disorders

Affective disorders

Mental retardation and autism

Anxiety related disorders

Somatoform disorders

Personality disorders

Substance addiction disorders

Now it needs to be acknowledged that some of the problems embraced in the above list are genuine medical problems and are definitely disabling.  These include:  serious brain damage and mental retardation.  But the vast majority of the so-called diagnoses listed are not genuine illnesses in any meaningful sense of the word.  They are problems of living.  They are problems of living that have been artificially medicalized for the benefit of psychiatrists and their allies the pharmaceutical companies.  These spurious “diagnoses” include:  schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder), substance addiction, etc.. All of these problems are remediable, but under the bio-psychiatric system of pseudo-care, the individuals concerned receive little or nothing in the way of genuine help – in fact, they receive little more than a steady supply of mood-altering drugs.

Paying disability benefits to these individuals is an insult to the genuinely disabled people who have real medical problems which restrict so severely their ability to function.

In addition, the payment of disability benefits to the so-called mentally ill is a great disincentive for these individuals to try to resolve their problems and learn functional ways of living.

All of the “symptoms” of the so-called mental illnesses can be fabricated.  A diagnosis of schizophrenia, for instance, is based entirely on what the individual says and does during an examination interview.  There is no lab or clinical test for schizophrenia.  Occasionally an examiner may question family members, but the “diagnosis” decision rests on the individual’s self-report.  That’s how the system works.  If you don’t mind the stigma of being considered “crazy,” you too can acquire a diagnosis, and with a little help from the mental health services, you can be awarded disability status and a modest monthly income.

And it doesn’t end there.  If you go to college, you may qualify for a variety of academic accommodations.  Michael Rose, PhD, writing in the July/August 2010 issue of the National Psychologist says:

“With the proper documentation, students may qualify for a wide range of learning aids, such as extra time to take tests, use of a private room for tests, word banks, use of a word processor with spell check and help from a proofreader.  A specific documented disability, typically made within the past three years, has been the basis for approved accommodations at most institutions of higher learning.

Besides qualifying for extra help that will likely improve grades, students may qualify for a range of vocational rehabilitation services (paid tuition, books, dormitory costs, computers) that are not dependent on family or individual income.” (pg 18)

I cannot think of a better way of trapping people in a dysfunctional state than providing them with multiple rewards and benefits contingent on their continued dysfunctionality.  As I have noted elsewhere:  Is this a great country or what?

Back in the 1990’s there was a great push to get people off the welfare rolls.  It is an open secret that Social Services departments in many areas were encouraging their welfare clients to enroll at the mental health center and establish a “diagnosis” so that they could then apply for a disability determination from Social Security.

I could never prove this, but I know of a number of parents who were actively coaching their children in attention-deficit and other kinds of dysfunctional behavior so that the child would qualify for a Social Security income.  It’s a simple fact in America today that if you teach your child to misbehave seriously from an early age, and take him regularly to the mental health center for “help,” you stand an excellent chance of having him qualify for a Social Security income.  I have known families with more than one child receiving Social Security “disability” payments for no other reason than chronic misbehavior and lack of discipline.

I discussed the spurious nature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder in an earlier post, but I’m repeating the diagnosis “symptoms” below for convenience.

The APA’s eighteen criteria for this fictitious illness are:

Inattention

a)      often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
b)      often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
c)      often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
d)     often does not follow through on instructions, and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
e)      often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
f)       often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
g)      often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
h)      is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
i)        is often forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactivity/Impulsivity

a)      often fidgets with hands or feet, or squirms in seat
b)      often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
c)      often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
d)     often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
e)      is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
f)       often talks excessively
g)      often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
h)      often has difficulty awaiting turn
i)        often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

I have only one question for my readers.  How hard would it be to train a child to function in this way?

Next Post:  Another Interesting Book

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

This post was edited and updated on July 7, 2013 in the light of comments from readers.  I am grateful for their input.

*************

One of the anxiety disorders listed in DSM-IV is posttraumatic stress disorder. The criteria for this condition are listed below:

A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others
(2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior

B. The traumatic event is persistently reexperiencd in one (or more) of the following:

(1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: In young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.
(2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.
(3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated). Note: In young children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur.
(4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
(5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma) , as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

(1) efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
(2) efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
(3) inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
(4) markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
(5) feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
(6) restricted range of affect (e.g. unable to have loving feelings)
(7) sense of a foreshortened future (e.g. does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

(1) difficulty falling or staying asleep
(2) irritability or outbursts of anger
(3) difficulty concentrating
(4) hypervigilance
(5) exaggerated startle response

E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C, and D) is more than 1 month.

F. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Posttraumatic stress disorder consists essentially of painful memories. Even the most organized and insulated lives are touched by tragedy and misfortune. Painful memories are an integral part of the human condition. Occasionally individuals are involved in incidents that are truly horrific, and the memories associated with these events are commensurately painful. The paradigm example of this is warfare, but traffic accidents, criminal attacks, and natural disasters are all potential sources of painful memories. The APA’s use of the term “…a threat to the physical integrity of self or others” (in A: above) is sufficiently vague to embrace almost any kind of traumatic event.

Everyone is familiar with painful memories and everyone is also familiar with the fact that these memories can and do intrude in our present lives. People who have lived through severe flooding, for instance, tend to react negatively to even light rainfall for months afterwards. People returned from combat sometimes react strongly to loud noises. What has happened in these cases is that the bad memory has in itself become a source of fear or anxiety, even though it poses no actual threat. The fear response, which initially was triggered by the traumatic incident, is now triggered by the memory of the incident. In other words, the person is literally afraid of his own thoughts.

Painful memories are not trivial. They can be extremely difficult to deal with and can interfere with present functioning. But they are not illnesses. Memory is an adaptive device – it helps us to survive and to cope with our surroundings. But memory doesn’t screen out unpleasant material. In fact, memories of particularly unpleasant incidents tend to stay with us longer, because of the emotional significance we attach to them at the time.

It is an obvious fact that our experiencing of the world around us modifies structures within the brain. If we hear a catchy tune a few times on the radio, we find that we can sing the melody without difficulty. Clearly there is some “trace” of the tune inside the brain that wasn’t there before. Similarly it has been shown in several animal studies that repeated exposure to stressful situations can produce long-lasting structural and functional changes in the brain. These studies are often cited as proof that PTSD really exists and that it is a brain disease. The reasoning, however, is muddled. Even if we concede that repeated exposure to stressful events can damage the brain and cause the individual to behave in erratic and destructive ways, this does not prove that all of the people who behave in erratic and destructive ways have damaged brains. The critical point is this: If indeed there is a neurological condition which is brought on by repeated exposure to stress and which in turn causes the individual to behave in an erratic and destructive manner, then this condition needs to be identified as a neurological illness, given an appropriate neurological name (e.g. hypersensitive dopamine receptors), and should be treated by neurologists. Some of the people currently diagnosed with PTSD would likely meet the criteria for the neurological illness, but just as likely, many would not. In particular, the diagnosis of this neurological illness would not rest on criteria that are purely behavioral.

Posttraumatic stress disorder as it is defined in the DSM is not an illness. There is no evidence of anything going wrong in the individual’s body; no diseased organs; no dysfunctional processes; no confirmed neural pathology – nothing that a normal intelligent person would consider necessary for a condition to be called an illness.

A particularly interesting feature of this matter is that people have been dealing with painful memories (and helping others deal with them) since our ancestors hunted and gathered on the plains of Africa. The “secret” to desensitizing this kind of material is to talk about it. In our culture women are better in this regard than men. If a woman is involved in a traumatic incident, she usually recounts the matter many times – to her mother, her sister, her husband, her best friend, etc. With each telling, the memory loses some of its potential to hurt. A man, on the other hand, in the same situation, will often feel that talking about the incident constitutes childish whining, and he keeps it to himself – shuts the memory away – where it remains strong and potent.

An individual who goes to a mental health center or to a VA center for help with painful memories is routinely assigned a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. He will be prescribed an anti-anxiety drug or an antidepressant to keep him becalmed and he may talk to a counselor. At subsequent “med checks” he may be prescribed a neuroleptic if he is still reporting outbursts of anger. He may get to spend some time with a counselor, but any treatment of this sort is considered secondary to the primary intervention of prescribing drugs.

In addition, PTSD is a major gateway diagnosis, and diagnoses of depression and bipolar disorder are often tacked on for good measure – or to extract more money from insurance companies.

Next Post: Depression is Not An Illness