In the early 1970s, a group of antiwar psychiatrists, most prominently Robert Jay Lifton, renowned for his work on the traumatic impact of Hiroshima, became concerned about the corrosive effect of the Vietnam War on the minds of the men who fought it. As Lifton told a Senate Committee in 1970, the veteran “returns as a tainted intruder…likely to seek continuing outlets for a pattern of violence to which they have become habituated.” To Lifton, the process of readjustment was one of “rehumanization.”
The stereotype of the mentally scarred vet that seized the public imagination during the Vietnam conflict lingers to this day, in part due to the media’s infatuation with the theme. Films such as Taxi Driver, Rambo, and Coming Home portrayed the veteran as a “walking time bomb.” Print media told much the same story. In 1972, the New York Times ran a front-page story, “Postwar Shock Is Found to Beset Veterans Returning from the War in Vietnam,” reporting that half of all Vietnam veterans were “psychiatric casualties of war” in need of “professional help to readjust.”
Today, according to a 2012 poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, over half of the public believes that the majority of post 9/11 veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. It’s a belief that could be hindering, rather than helping, servicemembers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their industry rewards intimacy, often driving photographers closer to the sharp edge of conflict. But after capturing those last breaths and cities laid waste by violence, these photographers are left to scroll through the day’s shots before wiring the most gripping images to newsrooms around the world.
Some photographers try to lose themselves in the technical elements of their images: the exposures and f-stops, saturation and white balance. These aspects allow a modicum of control. The most successful are praised and rewarded for their work. The events that shock their humanity, serve as fuel for their professional career. But sometimes, when trauma weighs too heavily — when those recorded moments become too ‘decisive’ — photographers internalize what they’ve seen. Like soldiers, photographers can carry these wars home
Read more. [Images: Ashley Gilbertson]
Traditionally used for blind, deaf, or physically disabled patients, service dogs have only recently been trained to perform tasks that can improve PTSD symptoms, like wake a veteran from a nightmare or create a buffer in large crowds or public places.
Patients often experience dramatic improvement, say service dog experts. They feel renewed confidence in social situations, decrease medication use, and are less likely to startle. Some veterans say it’s the only treatment that ever worked so well.
Read more. [Image: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]
It started several weeks after my daughter’s birth with an itch on my c-section scar. It was an entirely normal twinge, something that happens when nerve endings are healing. But instead of noticing the itch, maybe scratching it and moving on, my knees gave out and I hit the ground.
Suddenly I was on the operating table again — multiple sets of hands in me, shifting and tugging at unknown organs. I’m not sure how long I stayed on my living room floor, but when I became aware that I wasn’t in the hospital, my hands were shaking and I was covered in sweat.
It was the first of many flashbacks I would have over the next year or so — a post-traumatic response to my daughter’s premature birth, NICU stay, and the illness I developed during pregnancy that I thought would kill me. (It’s common for parents of babies in the NICU to develop PTSD, as it is for women who have traumatic birth experiences.)
The funny thing about PTSD is that it’s sneaky. The eight weeks that Layla was in the hospital — the emergency was still in full force — I was fine. Productive, even. I wrote articles, maintained a blog for family and friends about Layla’s progress, and went to the NICU every day to be with her. Sure, I had daily crying spells and suffered from an understandable amount of sadness and fear that comes with having a child in the hospital — but I was functioning. It was only after the crisis was over and Layla was home that everything changed. Just when I thought the nightmare of the hospital was over, a new one took residence in my home and in my head. Read more.
A controversial brain-wave therapy may be the solution to curing soldiers’ PTSD.