In this piece titled, Combat PTSD, the artist, Silverider, dramatically captures the loneliness that often accompanies a soldier returning home from war. Of the 2.3 million combat veterans in the United States returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, twenty per-cent are said to suffer with PTSD, according to a study conducted by the Rand Corporation.*
This is a staggering statistic, considering Rand published these findings in 2008. Running the numbers, this equates to almost 500,000 human beings in the United States alone living the inner torture we see in the artwork of this piece.
The numbers themselves create heartbreak enough. This image, depicts the suffering and loneliness of this illness in brilliant detail. A veteran, still wearing his combat clothes. His boots, worn and caked still with the grime of the desert, dirt brought home from a world he likely will never want to see again. His dog-tag, still hanging around his young neck, his identity on a chain. The images of further art behind him, makes one wonder: is this artwork part of a process this young, broken vet uses to help heal his invisible wound?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an emotional illness that can develop when we are exposed to horrifying situations of violence. Classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) as an anxiety disorder, the condition disrupts our internal fight-or-flight, survival processes in the body and mind. One stricken with the condition lives a life wrought with barriers to living a quality life. While not all who experience a traumatic event in life will develop PTSD, soldiers are highly susceptible given the nature of the chronic stress imposed upon them during combat. (***Wikipedia contributors. "Post-traumatic stress disorder.”)
Art therapy in mental health practice is a treatment modality in which a veteran, facilitated with the help of the art therapist, uses art media to explore the conflicts PTSD creates in it's manifestation. The creative process, and the resulting artwork created, is used to explore a veteran's feelings. Through this process, the intent of this and other therapeutic treatments is to help reconcile emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness as to the nature of the torment living inside the troubled soul of a soldier confused by the experience of carnage he's endured.
Such therapy can help to manage behavior and addictions. It can develop social skills and improve a soldier's orientation to reality. The creative process of art therapy, can reduce anxiety and increase a veteran's self-esteem. (**Enari: PTSD & Art Therapy: 2009).
Researching the story behind this image, it's surprising to learn that the artist at the time of this creation was just entering military service as a U.S. Marine. This artist hasn't yet experienced combat. Yet, his depiction is hauntingly accurate as a representation of the illness characterized in the piece.
When PTSD strikes, as shown in this image, the after-effects of traumatic experience reach far beyond the one suffering directly with symptoms. Behind this broken young man we see more of the truth of PTSD. A Welcome Home sign, and likely the soldiers wife standing off in another room, staring into the cave our veteran needs now to feel safe.
It is a separate room of isolation, where he must now retreat to sort out all that he has seen and done. The families of veterans are often vicariously traumatized along with our returning soldiers. Many families are torn completely apart due to the influence of this often obnoxious, inner-demon.
PTSD can ruin lives. A sad additional struggle for most who develop this disease is the struggle of addiction that comes along for the ride. To numb feelings, so out-of-control and frightening, many turn to substance and alcohol to find relief.
Hair-trigger survival instincts, groomed to perfection during training for combat, leaves a returning soldier with PTSD lost as he attempts a return to civilian life. Tragic consequences come home with our soldiers who often find themselves dealing with levels of rage so hard to keep under control, they often unintentionally cause harm to others, both emotionally and sometimes physically.
When it comes to understanding PTSD as public citizens, we aren’t very well informed. Many of us will judge those with the disorder, not fully understanding problem behaviors from one stricken with PTSD. We aren’t aware that a veteran isolating himself like this, is actually demonstrating to us a normal response, given the circumstances.
With the experience of combat, PTSD alters a returning soldier’s perception of danger. Given the repeated nature of the trauma he's faced, the images of battle haunt a veteran with PTSD. Many veterans find their way to a prison cell after they return home. Most tragically, suicide is far too often the final outcome for many of our service personnel when treatments are either avoided or unavailable in home communities.
What do we do, with the truth that is conjured up in our own minds from this image? One thing we can choose, is to attempt to understand the brokenness that often befalls those who stand up to defend us and our freedoms. We can argue all we want over the morality of nations still choosing to rise up against one another. The facts remain, as this image so brilliantly depicts, war continues and war is hell, both during conflict and obviously after the battles are done. It is true that a picture can grant thousands of words we might not otherwise be able to find to depict the tragedy of war. This artwork, does just that.
Hidden wounds. This is the truth of war. Some in battle lose limb. Some return disfigured in other more gruesome ways, with visible burns and scars upon faces once innocent of such things. Some veterans of war are wheelchair-bound for the remainder of their life. Physical wounds, as heart-breaking as they are, are not the same animal as damaged minds can be. Without a functional mind, nothing in life can really work out all that well again in terms of quality.
We need a functional intellect to process the hidden wounds that come with PTSD. Another sad result of a human survival mechanism being broken like this, is that the brain while working in survival mode shuts down blood-flow to the cerebral cortex, the reasoning area of our brain, making decision-making next to impossible.
As a defense as well, symptoms of avoidance of any reminder of the trauma suffered keeps many veterans from seeking appropriate treatments, such as art therapy could provide. Art therapy is a way to open things up and helps to create new neural pathways in the brain. The creative process of working with paints, chalk, drawing pencils or scribing as an author can offer a means of expression of the pain, often so difficult to express.
We need to know in our society that this is the truth coming home from our most recent human conflict. The more the general population can grow in understanding this illness, the greater the likelihood full recovery will be for our soldiers. We need to understand this for our veteran's sake, this is true. However we need also to understand the nature of this illness for the sake of ourselves.
Trauma, knows no boundaries. War and soldiers are just one combination in our human life experience that leads one to suffer PTSD. Three out of four of us on the planet will experience at least one traumatic event in our lives. Victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in childhood, often manifest PTSD later on, sometimes years following the experience. Emergency Services personnel, develop PTSD at rates of thirty-percent above those cases diagnosed in the general population.
PTSD is not only a soldiers disease. We all are at risk, should trauma invade our lives, of living the inner-torture depicted in this piece of art - the tragic nature of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder coming home to us from war.
*Tanielian, Terri L.: Invisible wounds of war : psychological and cognitive injuries, their consequences,and services to assist recovery: 2008: Rand Corporation Health Research Division (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG720.pdf)
**Enari: PTSD & Art Therapy: The Importance of the Self-Body Image in Survivors of Sexual Assault with PTSD Using Art Therapy Techniques: 2009: Pandora's Project Online (http://www.pandys.org/articles/PTSDarttherapy.html)
***Wikipedia contributors. "Post-traumatic stress disorder." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 May. 2014. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_stress_disorder)
****Veterans statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide: VeteransPTSD.Com (http://www.veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html)
Image: Combat PTSD: Silverider: 2012: Deviant Art.Com
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.