This article was written by and from the perspective of Kimberly Kjome.
My father was a man to be emulated. He was the typical masculine type: foreman of a big machine shop, respected by those in his charge, a big talker with a good sense of humor. He was a war veteran and always an officer of the local VFW. No one would have dared to challenge his “fitness” or call him “weak.”
He also had post-traumatic stress disorder. He never would have said so because of his own perceptions and the feared perception of others, despite his suffering and the repercussions it had for him and his family. He never received help — partially because he did not seek it out because of the stigma but also because at the time help was simply not available.
As a psychiatrist, I encounter many frustrations regarding lack of appropriate services, disparities to care and the stigma that surrounds mental health. Some of the ugliest stigma exists regarding the diagnosis of PTSD, wrongheadedly due to a culture that values “being strong” or “getting over” adversity.
This culture is intensified in the military. Veterans with PTSD are constantly bombarded with dismissal and shaming in the form of others’ ignorance about their diagnosis but also in the words that we and more importantly our leaders use to continue this stigma. Nothing is so disheartening as the vulgar epithets I have heard veterans with PTSD use to describe themselves, use to describe this “weakness.” Hearing them describe themselves in these ways is heartbreaking. The stigma we perpetuate is a fundamental disrespect to our veterans with PTSD.
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