Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an unusual malady. Loosely defined it is an affliction which attacks the sufferer’s mind, forcing him or her to relieve with a range of symptoms and with varying degrees of severity, intensity and regularity, a traumatic incident which occurred in their past. These symptoms can include flashbacks, nervous ticks, nightmares, speech impediments, dissociative behaviours (including avoidance measures) and hyperarousal/hypervigilance. Some behaviours (by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list) associated with PTSD suffering can include flashbacks, alcohol and/or substance abuse, fits of violent anger, spousal/child abuse, changes in mood/personality, depression, self-harm/suicidal tendencies, a need to manage all aspects of their lives (sometimes extending into family life), avoidance of others/stimuli related to death.
The diagnosis of PTSD is also multifaceted and not without controversy. The British Ministry of Defence keeps incomplete records (some might say in an attempt to deliberately obfuscate matters and potentially to limit their potential culpability), while the US Department of Defence has bowed to rising domestic pressure in recent years and recorded a significant number of their returning overseas veterans as suffering from PTSD.
Toby Harnden, author of Dead Men Risen (http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Men-Risen-Guards-Afghanistan/dp/1849164215, a look at the Welsh Guards and their activities in Afghanistan as part of Operation Panther’s Claw, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Panther%27s_Claw), recently filmed a documentary for the BBC’s Panorama programme. In Broken by Battle, Harnden revisits some of the guardsmen who encountered in Afghanistan and discovers to what extent their lives have been affected by what they were exposed to in Afghanistan. This documentary is not for the faint hearted; one part shows the suicide video ‘note’ made by an ex-soldier, shortly before he hanged himself in the Welsh countryside. Lance-Sergeant Dan Collins had survived being shot twice and had been blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device.
Collins was not the first soldier to try and escape his demons in death and, unfortunately, I do not believe he will be the last.
Harnden’s documentary seeks to draw the public’s attention to the anguish suffered by hundreds, if not thousands of military families, as they seek to reconcile their service in Afghanistan with their lives at home. During the First World War, the government produced a poster which showed a little girl sitting on her father’s lap, asking the question ‘What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?’ The father looked perplexed, uncomfortable with the question, the implication being would he be able to face telling his little girl that he had acted in a ‘cowardly’ fashion and had played no part? One cannot help but wonder how many modern fathers face the same difficulties in what they should tell their families regarding their time at war.
Broken by Battle is available on the BBC media player, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0377vnc, or alternatively I was able to watch it on YouTube at the following address, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrZ3QQmGdxE