25 March 2012

Oh, (s)he must have PTSD/PPD/etc., right?

Recently, the news has been full of the developing story of SSG Robert Bales, a soldier in the US Army who stands accused of sneaking off his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan and then opening fire in houses in nearby villages. The death toll currently stands at 17, many of whom are women and children. He also allegedly set some of the bodies on fire after killing them.

The media has, naturally, been buzzing over this story, and the situation has also been a hot topic on multiple forms of Social Media, including (but not limited to) discussion forums, Facebook, and Twitter. It's totally understandable. What happened is undeniably an inexcusable atrocity and if people weren't shocked and horrified, I think I'd find that incredibly disturbing in and of itself. The fact that people respond so strongly and negatively to such actions is good. However, there is something that does disturb me about the response to SSG Bales' alleged actions. Upon thinking about it, I realized that it actually ties in with PostPartum Mood Disorders too and the reaction to stories like those of Casey Anthony, Otty Sanchez, and Andrea Yates.

Many Americans seem to have the immediate reaction to SSG Bales' story that "Oh, he MUST have PTSD/TBI/etc.". (*note*TBI = Traumatic Brain Injury) When a mother stands accused of killing her children the immediate response often seems to be to jump right to "Oh, she must have PostPartum Depression". This perturbs me. Why? Not even getting into the fact that most people are actually thinking of PostPartum Psychosis and getting the two PPMD mixed up, the reason I want to focus on in this blog post is this... why do so many of us automatically assume that for something like this to happen, it must be the result of a mental health issue? Why couldn't it be religious extremism, drug/alcohol related, prejudice, or even just plain evil people doing evil things?

I believe that to jump right to mental health being the explanation does a disservice to the many people who do have mental health issues and never do anything like this. It is my personal opinion that it furthers the stereotypes and negative stigma associated with mental health issues. To continue with the specific examples of soldiers with PTSD and moms who suffer from a PPMD, it has the very real danger of causing people to look at soldiers returning from combat with the suspicion of "Soldiers who are deployed get PTSD and then go on murderous rampages" or to look at new moms and go "Oh, she's struggling with PostPartum Depression, she might kill her child(ren).".

In my humble opinion, immediately assuming that someone who did something awful must have done so because of a mental health issue furthers the stigma that needs to be eradicated. Who wants to admit that they are struggling if they figure they're just going to be lumped in as a potential murderer?

Otty Sanchez and Andrea Yates did have PostPartum Mood Disorders and Otty Sanchez had some other mental health issues. Casey Anthony was found "Not Guilty" (and please, let's NOT make this about whether or not we feel she actually did it or anything of the like). MAJ Nidal Hasan, awaiting trial for the Ft. Hood shootings in 2009, was found mentally competent to stand trial. Time will tell whether SSG Bales has a case of PTSD/TBI that contributed to what he is accused of doing in Afghanistan. I am not a medical professional and my knowledge of his case is limited to what I read/hear/see in the media and online. It is entirely possible that a mental health problem factored in for SSG Bales. But we just don't know and I'd rather not assume that he does as a way of trying to rationalize/explain what happened. Sometimes really horrible things happen (yes I know, huge understatement), but they're not always the result of a mental health issue. Let's stop feeding that stereotype and start heading towards a thought process that both consciously and subconsciously recognizes that mental health issues are not always the root of evil acts.

1 comment:

  1. You are right, it is hard to admit that you have a mental illness if people are going to assume that you will go on a murderous rampage..