PTSD: The Enemy Within

By S. Muhammad Hyland
From PHN Issue 23, Winter 2015

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can arise after an actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or others, too often goes undiagnosed. Formerly known as shell shock syndrome, PTSD was once considered to plague only soldiers. Today, statistics tell a different story.

Neighborhood Violence

Denizens of inner cities across America also suffer from this dangerous disorder but routinely go unnoticed. If PTSD can be successfully used to defend violent criminal behavior perpetrated by current or former troops, it should work that same way for inner-city minorities. Both groups of people are subject to the same feelings created by their respective environments.

During a tour of duty, troops may or may not see combat. Either way, if they survive, they get to return home. No doubt, many of them are affected by the atrocities that they’ve witnessed firsthand. And by all means, they do deserve medical attention. Yet what about the teenager born and raised in the ghetto, who sees every type of violent act carried out on a daily basis, sometimes against their own family?

Can you imagine the impact of this violence on an undeveloped mind? They come to believe that what takes place in the ghetto is normal, not aware of the toll their environment is taking on their mind, body, and soul. The inner-city youth wakes up to daily reminders of where they are and what took place the night before, causing them to live in a constant state of intense fear, helplessness and horror.

Undiagnosed and untreated, PTSD wreaks havoc—families impacted become concerned, frightened and withdrawn. Stress at home leads to stress inside the workplace. PTSD causes much of the tension behind violence in the Black community.

Prevention and Treatment

Health officials should be more vigilant in finding ways to implement mental health education into typical school curriculum. Teaching prevention would motivate those not afflicted to help others.

That most people in prison suffer from PTSD is a reality that judicial-level officials refuse to consider. If testing for this disorder were part of the pre-sentencing evaluation, defendants would have better chances in the courtroom and happier, healthier lives and lifestyles upon release. Instead, people in prison are subjected to conditions so harsh that it only exacerbates their symptoms.

Conceivably, prevention would help to reduce the crime rate, which would in turn reduce the prison population, saving billions of dollars in the short-term and millions of lives in the long-term. It’s not too late to do the right thing, by first acknowledging that most people in prison suffer from PTSD, and next by beginning to treat all affected by it.

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