On Monday, Donald Trump spoke to the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, where he made some controversial remarks about post-traumatic stress disorder.
During the Q&A in his speech to American war veterans, Trump was asked about the suicide epidemic affecting the U.S. military.
“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over. And you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it. And they see horror stories, they see events that you couldnt see in a movie nobody would believe it,” Trump said.
Social media quickly lit up with anger as reports of Trump’s remarks hit Twitter.
Trump either thinks vets that commit suicide can’t hack it like men or genuinely doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Tory (@BigOleSportsFan) October 3, 2016
His comment, made in a room full of veterans, cannot be ignored.
Trump’s words demonstrate a serious misunderstanding of the issues that affect veterans. They also represent a harmful attitude about how to deal with PTSD and depression, one that mental health professionals and activists have been trying to correct for years.
To be fair, Trump’s full comments were made in support of providing more health care of veterans not less. He even proposed that the government should pay for the health care of all veterans, not just at Veterans Affairs locations, but at any hospital.
Roughly 5% of all U.S. troops have been diagnosed with PTSD.
The implication that veterans who die by suicide or suffer from mental health problems are simply not “strong” or “can’t handle it” is not only inaccurate but reinforces a dangerous, life-threatening attitude toward mental health.
PTSD diagnoses are nearly double that for veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those numbers only account for the veterans who have received treatment. Like many mental health issues, PTSD is stigmatized and often goes unreported or untreated, which means an unknown number of veterans could be suffering silently, afraid to ask for the treatment they need, for fear of being perceived as weak.
For those who do seek help, researchers have found that the suggestion to “toughen up” only increases cases of depression. PTSD is a real mental health disorder that affects millions every year, not just veterans.
Furthermore, Trump’s implication that veterans who die from suicide because they’re weak is, effectively, pouring a gallon of gasoline on top of the already destructive fire of toxic masculinity.
In simple terms, toxic masculinity is the socially constructed idea that being a “man” means being tough and unemotional, or even violent and sexually aggressive.
“Toughness” has also been a key part of the Trump campaign:
Our country is totally divided and our enemies are watching. We are not looking good, we are not looking smart, we are not looking tough!
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2016
To say that suicidal veterans are not strong or that PTSD only affects those who “can’t handle” service doesn’t help anyone, and it could hurt a whole lot more.
Anyone seeking the role of commander in chief, though, should understand and empathize with the very real repercussions of putting your life on the line for your country and be deliberate in the way he or she talks about it.
Trump prides himself on not being politically correct, but there are very real repercussions for talking about PTSD in a politically incorrect way. Despite his good intentions to provide more mental health support to veterans, Trump’s disregard for the way mental health professionals and advocates have worked for years to correct the misinformation and stigmatization of PTSD and depression shows a level of flippancy towards an important issue that a commander in chief cannot afford.