Mother Jones Reporter Mac McClelland lectures on PTSD

In her lecture titled “PTSD: Not Just For Veterans,” human rights reporter Mac McClelland drove home the point that not only veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but that it is an often ignored issue in the lives of ordinary Americans as well. McClelland spoke in Maxey on Tuesday night with the goal of spreading awareness for people dealing with trauma who would not necessarily be aware that what they are suffering through is PTSD.

Mac M.  Photo by Skye Vander Laan.

Mac McClelland. Photo by Skye Vander Laan.

McClelland began her lecture by revealing that she herself suffered from PTSD. It was her experience, and her realization that many others dealt with similar effects of trauma, that led her to investigate the issue further.

“I was diagnosed with PTSD myself, in late 2010. I was reporting in Haiti after the earthquake, and I spent my first day with a girl in her early twenties who had been raped and horrifically mauled. A couple days after that I was backed into a corner in this remote town just outside of Port de Prince and threatened with sexual assault myself,” McClelland said.

When McClelland returned home to San Francisco, she suffered symptoms that severely limited her ability to function even in a familiar world. Not knowing exactly what was happening, or why she couldn’t simply push past the trauma, she wrote an article relating her experience to others. When seemingly hundreds of people began to write her back and relate similar stories of trauma, McClelland knew the issue was more relevant than she previously thought.

“These people from all over the country, of all kinds of races and genders, they didn’t have anything in common except two things. The first thing, obviously, was they had PTSD. The second thing, and the weirdest, and the stupidest, and most needless thing, was that they all thought they were the only people who were experiencing what they were experiencing,” she said.

McClelland spoke to the fact that people were entirely ignorant of their situation, and that they unnecessarily thought they were alone in dealing with post-traumatic stress.

“My own ignorance about PTSD is actually a pretty solid testament to our national ignorance about PTSD, because I lived among one of the most traumatized civilian populations of modern American history. In 2005 I was in graduate school in New Orleans, teaching there, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The disaster was like a case study for PTSD,” she said.

Following Hurricane Katrina however, there was no discussion of post-traumatic stress among the citizens of New Orleans. PTSD is generally not an issue that is widely associated with anything other than war veterans, so its effect on the community as a whole went largely unnoticed until recent studies. Studies now have shown that people who reported PTSD after Katrina still reported the effects PTSD five years later.

“You hear a lot about the fallout of untreated PTSD on the news when it comes to our returning troops; its probably one of the only places you’ve ever heard it … There are lots of manifestations of PTSD that don’t get press at all and that effect more than just soldiers.”

McClelland related surprising statistics related to PTSD in the American public. She said that 40 percent of homeless women suffer from PTSD, women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men, PTSD is present in a shocking amount of federal inmates, and that juvenile offenders also have a larger than average case of post-traumatic stress.

“Now I know 70 percent of American adults experience something traumatic in their life. Twenty percent of those people will develop PTSD. There’s about eight million adults in the U.S. with PTSD at any given time.”

All of this painted a picture of American society where PTSD is without a doubt a serious issue, but one that society is almost entirely ignorant of. McClelland advocated that the first steps to addressing this issue are awareness and validation.

“My hope is that just now we did a little bit of our part to achieving the awareness about trauma. If we’re aware of the fact that there is emotional suffering that others are going through, and how often others are going through it, then we’ll be a step ahead in another workplace where eventually we’ll need that awareness, and that validating, for something even closer, and that’s for ourselves.”

 




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