Today’s guest post on social systems and PTSD comes from a freelance writer covering some of the ways in which our society worsens the experience of trauma survivors, even while trying to help them. This is an issue near and dear to my heart, which I feel embroiled in personally myself (and have for a while). I have been covering related issues about addiction, and I grateful to guest writer Avery T. Philips for taking on–at least in part–the enormous issue of society’s failing treatment of those with PTSD.
Once you’re done reading this essay, don’t forget to read my exclusive and super honest interview with author Amy Dresner–you can even enter to win a free copy of her book and all you have to do is like, go to Facebook or send a tweet. Seriously. It’s that easy…so do it.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.”
How Social Systems Ignore And Exacerbate PTSD
It took over a hundred years of war for post-traumatic stress disorder to be recognized as a legitimate disorder, but we now know that PTSD results from many different experiences that people may have. Public servants such as military veterans, police officers and firefighters are especially vulnerable due to triggering work environments. Rape or domestic violence victims and children who grow up around abusive family members are subject to painful memories that can haunt them their entire lives.
You cannot know that a person has PTSD by simply looking at them. It is something that resides in the depths of their mind and soul. The invisibility of PTSD and other mental illnesses leads many neurotypical people to assume everyone else is equally mentally stable. Thus, it is easy for society to have biases against people that live with PTSD, which in turn creates a self-stigma among veterans and other trauma survivors that compounds their PTSD symptoms. Intentionally or not, the criminal justice system, the medical field, and other societal systems mistreat people with PTSD.
Criminal Justice System
According to the American Corrections Association, approximately nine percent of the national prison population is composed of military veterans. A study done on the aggressive behavior of war veterans shows that veterans are somewhat prone to committing violent acts as a result of their PTSD due to hypersensitivity and heightened aggression that are caused by memories of war (though PTSD in general is not linked with violent behavior). This issue has been recognized by the criminal justice system and there have been attempts to address it, but with minimal positive outcomes so far.
Inmates with PTSD (many cases left undiagnosed) are simply lost in the criminal justice system due to overcrowding and a lack of available mental health professionals. The likelihood of a person with PTSD battling an addiction is two to four times higher than someone not afflicted with PTSD. Crimes that are tried in court and find the defendant to have acted out during a state of insanity are then condemned to a life in a mental institution where they are heavily medicated and still essentially imprisoned. The Veteran’s Treatment Court does offer a verdict option to allow vets the opportunity to not have to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” but instead take the treatment option by default. Although this is helpful to veterans, this is not an option for others that also have PTSD and are facing criminal charges.
The process a rape victim has to succumb to is traumatizing in and of itself. Some of those that have been victim to rape never want to see their assailant ever again, but are forced to in court. Sometimes they are even blamed for the rape having occurred. Rape victims are generally are convinced to complete an intrusive rape kit shortly after experiencing a violation of their body by an assailant. Although rape kits are important and could provide crucial evidence, a substantial number are not even processed and the rapist walks free due to a backlog and shortage of forensic nurses–that means these victims are urged to undergo an intrusive and sometimes retraumatizing procedure for absolutely no reason. These are just a few examples of the difficulties that people with PTSD face when dealing with the legal system.The criminal justice system is not renowned for its sensitivity and empathy, although perhaps it should be.
The Medical Field
Mental health screenings take place too late in our society. They are not routine, which means that unless there is a major event that requires the need to pay attention to a person’s mental health status, a patient’s mental health is often ignored. Routine physicals are required for many employees in many different realms of work environments. Some companies do it to maintain overall company health and a public service to their employees, while to some it is a requirement to ensure they are fit to perform. Outside of work, people are recommended to have annual physical exams. The same is not true of mental health. Instead, mental health programs are offered as an out-of-pocket benefit for employees but are not required by any local, state, or federal regulations.
What if our society were to propose a mental health evaluation at the same time as an annual physical? What if mental health care was not just reactive, but preventative? What differences would we see within our communities by putting the mental health of our community members at the top of our priority list? Most likely, we would see a decline in homelessness and illicit drug use, and the crime rate that comes with that; people would feel healthier and more supported, and we would see an overall increase in the mental welfare of our communities.
In addition to preventative health, we can look at our standard operating procedure in emergency care, psychiatric care and hospitals. It is common practice to restrain trauma stricken patients when they are having a violent episode,which can trigger traumatic memories from their past. There have been cases of rape and abuse taking place in psych wards. The institutions that are supposed to be helping the PTSD population need to be further screened and trained in appropriate case management to help prevent further harm from being inflicted on patients with PTSD.
Whether intentionally or not, our current social system is not designed to protect the mental health of those with PTSD.Instead, we see more and more patients being ignored, re-traumatized, subject to stigmatizing media and misinformation, and too often become prison, death, and homelessness statistics. It is time to figure out a way to change how we help those who have already lived through hell–they deserve better than a new version of it from the social services meant to protect them.