Wednesday, March 27, 2013

PTSD, what is to become of us?

In the last couple days Willi has read two articles in the New York Times that concern what might be called stress or trauma:

The first story related how a rabbi who, near the close of WWII, entered a German concentration camp where there were stacks of dead bodies all over the place. He was actually in the United States army serving as a chaplain under General George Patton whose troops had just liberated the camp. Willi still remembers vividly seeing pictures like this at what were called "newsreels" shown at movie theaters after the main features had ended; there were no TV's then, and radio could not possibly have given one even a hint of the catastrophe before one's eyes. There were bodies stacked like cordwood, and some people were still alive, but so thin that they looked as though they might have been dead the day after tomorrow. The GI's would give the survivors smokes which produced peculiar, incongruous grins on their faces, peculiar because they had nothing obvious to be smiling about, considering what they had endured.

The rabbi's concern was whether there were any people still alive in this particular camp that had contained thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews. An American soldier among the liberators said that there were, and he took the chaplain to another area of the camp where there were hundreds of people barely surviving among even more dead bodies. Then the rabbi thought he saw something moving among the dead. It turned out to be a young boy who had managed somehow—with a number of other children—to survive this massacre; his parents had been killed. The story moistened Wili's eyes.

The chaplain was assigned to lead a contingent of soldiers to escort some hundreds of these boys to France and Switzerland and other places in Europe, to see that they were taken care of as well as possible considering that Europe was a shambles. This story in the Times was prompted not by an anniversary of the liberation but by the rabbis death; it was his obituary. The boy, by the way, survived and later became an American citizen.

The second article told of how some $14,000,000 donated by sympathetic people was to be allocated to those in need after the recent shootings at a school in Newtown Connecticut. Here is the Times on that story:

Both United Way and local officials say their mandate is to serve an array of different if unequal needs, from helping families who lost children to providing mental health care for the hundreds of traumatized children who survived.

These two articles taken together made Willi think about a number of things:

The Newtown shooting was certainly traumatic for those who were there and survived, and for the families of the dead and their friends as well. He was touched that so many strangers sympathetically donated money to help the traumatized survivors. But the scale of the first tragedy was so far beyond that of the second that it made Willi thoughtful concerning their equivalence and today's reaction to trauma.

The world went on after WWII and if people had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) afterwards, a term not then invented, they didn't talk about it and they mostly—not all—came out all right. And finally he wonders just what "mental health care"—regardless of the amount of money spent—can do for a young person who accidentally witnessed the shooting at Newtown. Just what does a shrink, or a psychologist, say to that person to make them feel better? To make them forget? To make order of disorder? So he looked it up and here it is (from "a trusted non-profit resource"):

In treatment for PTSD, you'll:

Explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma

Work through feelings of guilt, self-blame, and mistrust

Learn how to cope with and control intrusive memories

Address problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships


Willi is somehow not impressed. This is an answer that is not an answer. Is there any data whatsoever to show that this "treatment" has any better affect than just to go on living? He doubts it, and especially for young people who have a long life ahead of them, with new things every day. No, the feelings are not forgotten, they are submerged under new thoughts. Not much help but that's life; one can still fall in love, make a living, and move on.

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