The latest edition of The New Yorker has the tragic story of a US Marine who became famous after writing about his struggle with PTSD for the Marine Corps Gazette, met the President as a result, but who later killed himself owing to the intensity of his experiences.
The New Yorker Article weaves the story of decorated Staff Sergeant Travis Twiggs with commentary on the effects of PTSD and the current support for US veterans who have been traumatised by their experiences.
Compared with other American wars, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be producing victims at a high rate. A recent RAND Corporation study estimated that three hundred thousand veterans of America‚Äôs post-9/11 wars‚Äînearly twenty per cent of those who have served‚Äîare suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression, and many more cases are expected to surface in the years ahead. This elevated rate is generally attributed to the rigors of a long war being fought without conscription: multiple deployments and heavy use of National Guard and reserve units. And on the ground, at unit level, the discouragement of anyone with stress symptoms from asking for help is intense. The same RAND study found that, mainly because of the stigma still attached to P.T.S.D., only half of those afflicted have sought treatment.
Twiggs was apparently a highly experienced, highly decorated and trusted marine and the article demonstrates one of the key findings of military psychiatry: every man has his limit.
The holy grail of military psychiatry has been to develop a way of predicting who will suffer psychiatric illness before deployment but this has never been realised because the biggest predictor is not the character or attributes of the soldier, but the intensity of the fighting to which they’re exposed.
Saying that, there are other factors which do contribute, and unfortunately the US military seem to have a policy of extended and lengthy tours which may explain why rates of PTSD are higher in the deployed US military than in the soldiers of other forces in the same conflict.
The New Yorker article is vivid and tragic in equal measure, but helps to illustrate the personal experiences behind the statistics.