PTSD: civilians just love to paint veterans as riddled with this disease, causing them to become violent, unhinged lunatics who will explode at the slightest provocation. Look at just about any news story where a violent crime is committed by a veteran, and PTSD is almost immediately floated as the reason. In the media narrative, violence and PTSD go hand-in-hand. At the same time, troops are criticized for not coming forward and admitting they have a problem, and seeking help for it. (Gee, could it possibly be because we paint veterans with PTSD as homicidal lunatics?)
Dr. Phil, arguably one of the most popular talk show hosts on the planet, decided to feature this issue on his show this week. And while he could have taken a reasonable approach, he went straight for the gut instead. Titling the show “From Heroes To Monsters”, he painted a picture of vets with PTSD as ticking time bombs of violence, describing them as damaged goods who “destroy families” and “dismantle marriages”.
One of Dr. Phil’s guests, Matt, is a former Marine who struggles with PTSD. He speaks about how, while deployed to Afghanistan, he repeatedly stabbed an enemy combatant in the face, even after he was dead, to get his anger out. He also claims he saw “lots” of innocent people killed, including women and children. (His last name isn’t given, so it’s impossible to verify his claims of killing women and children while deployed to Afghanistan.)
After Matt, Dr. Phil featured Mark and Heather. Mark is another veteran with PTSD who admits he has violent rages, says his life has been destroyed, and is afraid of what he will do to his family. Heather’s husband, Duane, had PTSD. He beat her and set her on fire.
The common thread between all of these stories: violence. Did Dr. Phil ever stop to point out that most veterans with PTSD don’t end up setting their wives on fire or stabbing people repeatedly in the face? Of course not. Indeed, recent research has found that the link between PTSD and violent behavior is actually weak. Another dirty little secret Dr. Phil didn’t feel was necessary to point out: civilians get PTSD, too. In fact, anyone can get it — anyone who has been through a trauma. According to the VA, about 7-8% of the general population will get PTSD at some point in their lives. For veterans, the risk is slightly higher, although not by much at 11-20%. And, believe it or not, the symptoms of PTSD do not include sudden violence such as setting your wife on fire or stabbing people in the face. Common symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of it, feeling numb, feeling jittery, suddenly being angry or irritable, having trouble sleeping, etc. Setting your wife on fire? Not so much a normal occurrence. While relationship problems and violence may occur, acting as if it is a foregone conclusion (as Dr. Phil did) and saying that vets with PTSD are “monsters” is ridiculous and offensive.
It has been noted time and again, including here at You Served, that there is a stigma associated with veterans who have PTSD. While things may slowly be getting better, we still have a long way to go. And clearly, that goes for civilians as well. When the leading daytime talk show host runs a show calling veterans with PTSD “monsters” and “damaged goods”, it’s no wonder that there is a stigma attached to PTSD. The media gleefully paints vets who struggle with it as ticking time bombs, as stereotypes of lunatics about to snap at any given moment. The narrative isn’t new… but I don’t ever recall seeing veterans being so blatantly insulted by being called “monsters” and “damaged goods”.
I’m curious if Dr. Phil honestly thinks it’s helpful to paint such a negative, violent picture of veterans struggling with PTSD. I would wager he doesn’t care at all about how this affects our military. Because if he did, this show wouldn’t have existed. What he has done is continue to spread a false and harmful narrative about our troops, which spreads the stigma associated with PTSD even further. And what does that do? It encourages veterans who are struggling with symptoms of PTSD to become even more reluctant to come forward and seek help. Why would they? They’re being told that they’re monsters, damaged goods, violent abusive lunatics. While Dr. Phil is by no means the only perpetrator, this is by far the worst example I have seen in the media.
Having PTSD does not make you “damaged goods”. Does having cancer make someone damaged? What about depression, or bipolar disorder, or any number of other diseases? Telling someone who has PTSD that they are a monster and therefore need to get help makes about as much sense as telling a woman who has breast cancer that she’s damaged goods and therefore needs chemotherapy. It’s not going to encourage anyone to actually seek help. What it will surely do for vets, though, is reinforce the idea that they are somehow broken, that they’ll be judged and punished for having PTSD, and make them think that they are right to not tell anyone and to not get help. None of our troops who are afflicted with PTSD are monsters, they are not damaged, and 99% of them are not violent, homicidal maniacs about to snap at any moment.
The men and women who serve in our Armed Forces give up so much. They sacrifice their time with their families, their bodies, and their lives. For some, they sacrifice their mental health. This does not make them broken, or crazy, or violent, and it especially does not make them monsters. Meanwhile, here is Dr. Phil, taking the sacrifice and exploiting it, calling our troops — who have already given up so much for us — monsters. He should be ashamed of himself.
If he has any honor at all, any gratitude for the service of our veterans, he’ll issue an apology and a retraction. You can contact the Dr. Phil Show at:
Dr. Phil Show
5482 Wilshire Boulevard #1902
Los Angeles, CA 90036
This asshat really needs to stop. Calling your segment 'Heroes to Monsters' is disgusting and unfair to these service members who didn't ask to come back home with these issues. Instead of calling them monsters, get them help.