31 August 2012

Sometimes people just do bad things.

Over the last few days, two news stories in particular have been coming across my news feed a lot. One is about Terrence Tyler, a 23 year old Marine (no longer in the Corps) who shot and killed two fellow store employees before killing himself at a New Jersey supermarket. According to the news story, 
"Tyler, formerly of Brooklyn but living in Old Ridge, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2008 to 2010, a Marines spokesman said. Tyler was a lance corporal and rifleman, who received two medals and never served overseas, the spokesman said.". 
I have not been able to find any information as to what kind of discharge he received (Honorable or otherwise). The news story also states that, according to a law enforcement source, 
"Tyler may have had a history of depression or mental illness".
Naturally, plenty of reactions seem to be "He must have had PTSD". Another opinion I've seen floating around is that "He couldn't have had PTSD, he never deployed". These are both inaccurate. As to the first, no, he does NOT have to have had PTSD. For one thing, if it's true that he had a past history of depression//mental illness, why could it have been that instead? Are we assuming that since he served in the military any mental issues that caused something like this have to automatically be PTSD?

As to the second, PTSD is not something that is reserved specifically for troops who deploy to combat, it's not something exclusive to overseas military service. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We usually hear about it in the news most often in relation to servicemembers and veterans but it is hardly exclusive to the military community. PTSD can come about as a result of any traumatic event. Rape and abuse survivors, vehicle accident survivors, someone who was caught in a fire, people who are onlookers witnessing an event that is traumatic to them, people who have lost a loved one, anyone who experiences anything that is traumatic to them can suffer from PTSD. PTSD can occur after a woman has a childbirth that was traumatic to her. Someone living with a spouse or loved one with PTSD can develop their own PTSD. According to PostPartum Support International,
"Approximately 1-6% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum. "
Women who have survived a PostPartum Mood Disorder can struggle with PTSD as a part of the aftermath. 911 personnel can develop PTSD due to the situations they may be put in as part of their work. PTSD is not exclusive to any one community, nor is it limited to a specific type of situation. If Terrence Tyler experienced something that was traumatic to him during boot camp or any part of his time in the U. S. Marine Corps, he could most certainly have developed PTSD and it is certainly possible that that could have been linked to his actions in shooting and killing two others in addition to himself. The thing is, we just don't know.

The other story I've been hearing a lot about it that of Tiffany Klapheke, a woman arrested after her 22 month old daughter died, apparently from extreme neglect. Her other two children, a 3 year old and a 6 month old, are currently in the hospital, apparently also suffering from the same. And of course, as is the norm when a mother is responsible for the death of her child, many people are jumping straight to "Oh, well, since it's a mom who killed her child, it must be PostPartum Depression".

NO. It does NOT have to be PostPartum Depression. Again, it could be another mental illness. It could be totally unrelated to mental health altogether and be the result of bad parenting or other factors. Just because a mother is responsible for the death and/or injury of her children does not mean it's automatically a PPMD. This isn't even getting deep into the fact that most of the time, when people refer to "PPD" as the reason a mother kills her child (usually citing the cases of Andrea Yates and/or Otty Sanchez), they are actually referring to PostPartum Psychosis, another PPMD but a separate and different illness than PostPartum Depression. PPD and PPP are not the same and can not/should not be used interchangeably. If you're going to toss around "So-and-so must have *insert mental health problem*, please, at least know what it is you're actually talking about.

But beyond that, it is injurious and unfair to automatically assume that someone who does something bad must be suffering from a mental illness. It makes it harder for people who are suffering to ask for help. To focus specifically on servicemembers who are dealing with PTSD, it's already incredibly difficult for them to go talk to someone about it. Among other things, they fear being seen as weak, as not being able to do their job, as not being good Soldiers/Airmen/Marines/Sailors/Coasties. They worry that if they speak up about their problems, they will automatically lose their security clearance, be reclassed to a different job, be discharged from the military altogether. They worry about being mocked and made fun of by their coworkers, about being looked down on and told to "Suck it up and stop being a pansy" and of being seen as malingerers by their Chain of Command. They already fight these stigmas, concerns, and myths. People automatically jumping to the conclusion that servicemembers who do bad things must be the result of PTSD add another layer of fear to it: the fear that they may be immediately seen as a threat and a potential monster. This is all aside from whatever internal pain and traumatic events are causing them to suffer in the first place.

Assault/abuse survivors may already be wrestling with unnecessary guilt over "Was this my fault? Could I have done something different to prevent this?", or with people being suspicious that they somehow brought it on themselves or are lying about what happened to them. People who are dealing with PTSD as a result of anything other than military service may not even be aware that PTSD could be something they face, or they may worry that people will laugh and bring the exact attitude of "You're not military, you weren't deployed, you don't have PTSD". Women who are struggling with PTSD after childbirth face those who have the attitude that "Childbirth couldn't possibly be traumatic" (and yes, I have personally heard/seen that said and that attitude thrown around).

With regards to a PPMD, I can't stress enough how terrifying it was to be suffering from PPD. To feel like I wasn't in control of my emotions and, to some extent, my actions and reactions, to have thoughts that popped unbidden into my head of hurting/killing myself, to constantly feel numb and dulled and in a fog and not even know why, to feel those waves of anger and sadness, to know deep down inside that something was wrong but not know what or why, and to feel like it must have been something I was doing wrong. It was beyond scary. Once I realized that I had all the symptoms of PostPartum Depression and NEEDED to get help, that was a whole new dimension of fear. Fear that it meant I was a horrible mom and a failure as a wife and mother, fear that it meant I was a monster, worry that when I went in and said "I need help, here's what I'm dealing with" CPS would be called in to take my baby girl away so that I couldn't try to kill her. After I was released from the hospital I dealt with the concern that if I told anyone what was going on, they would look down on me, mock me, laugh at me, judge me, criticize me, not trust me, and assume that I must be like Andrea Yates, that I must be on the verge of killing my child in some horrific manner.

These stigmas and fears are perfectly normal for anyone who is dealing with PTSD, PPD, or any other mental illness. These stigmas are exactly what I and so many others are trying to fight, why we work so hard to educate people, why public discussion, education, and advocacy are so vital. Steps in the right direction are being taken and forward progress is being made. However, sadly, when people hear about stories like this and start talking about what mental illness must have caused the person in question to have done whatever they did, it is a step in the wrong direction, movement backwards, and adds to those stigmas and myths we all work to combat and dispell. It's not harmless to toss around these attitudes and assumptions, it hurts people who are dealing with these issues and makes people who need treatment more afraid to ask for help. It hurts the loved ones who are tying to support them and see the pain they're going through. It hurts everyone who has suffered, is suffering, and will suffer.

It also does a disservice to those who are doing the spreading. You don't deserve to believe false things, you deserve to be educated and knowledgeable about these issues that society is dealing with. You deserve to know what the symptoms of PostPartum Depression is and exactly how many women suffer. You deserve to have the confidence to be able to ask for help if you need it someday instead of ignoring your own problems because you believe the stigmas you've helped to perpetuate and spread.

Today, you're the one saying that Terrence Tyler must have had PTSD or Tiffany Klapheke must have had PostPartum Depression. But remember, one day you could be the one dealing with your own inner demons and not wanting to reach out for help because you don't want to be seen as the monster you have labeled Andrea Yates and Otty Sanchez as. It could be your son who comes back from combat with more wounds on the inside than the outside or your daughter who can't find her way out of the darkness after she has a baby. It could be you who suddenly has to fight the very attitudes you've helped foster. Why not do yourself and your loved ones a favor and take some time to educate yourself about the causes, symptoms, victims, and survivors of the various mental illnesses you think you know so much about? Educate yourself, educate your loved ones, educate the world, and maybe as that happens you'll help someone who is suffering to get help before they become a news story.

1 comment:

  1. Great post!
    There is a tendency in this country to label most bad behavior as something other than what it is. It has to be a mental illness, or an imbalance resulting from injustice, or whatever. (There are exclusions for things not politically correct- often labeled as as hate crimes, terroristic threats, etc.)
    It's dangerous in that it never addresses the real issues (sometimes people just do bad things) and in that it now groups people with the real mental/emotional/whatever issues in with criminals because of junk science (or junk politics).