(Photo:Flickr/The U.S. Army)

John Oldham, the president of the American Psychiatric Association is considering creating a new subcategory of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for troops returning home from combat as a way to decrease the stigma of mental illness and encourage these troops to get help.

Oldham, who serves as senior vice president and chief of staff at the Houston-based Menninger Clinic, told the Houston Chronicle he is “very open” to naming the subcategory “combat post-traumatic stress injury” or something similar.

“It would link it clearly to the impact and the injury of the combat situation and the deployment experience, rather than what people somewhat inaccurately but often assume, which is that you got it because you weren’t strong enough,” Oldham told the newspaper.

The request was made by Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who wrote to Oldham last year initially suggesting that the word “disorder” be dropped from PTSD.

“Calling it a disorder contributes to the stigma and makes it so some folks – not all, but some folks – don’t get the help they need,” Chiarell said. “[‘Disorder’ is] not a dirty word, but I think it’s misused here. I don’t think that the post-traumatic stress that soldiers experience is a disorder. It’s not something that happens just to weak people or people that are somehow inclined to be affected by horrible things that they see or are required to do. I think it causes an actual injury to the brain and how the brain works.”

Oldham wrote Chiarelli informing him that APA would not be changing the name of PTSD, but eventually the two came up with the idea of creating a subcategory for soldiers.

Chiarelli told The Houston Chronicle he is trying to change the name of PTSD in an effort to reduce the number of suicides among soldiers. According to the newspaper:

“Statistics released last month identified 260 potential suicides in 2011. Of that total, 154 were active-duty soldiers, 73 were National Guard troops and 33 were reservists.  Stigma is a major problem. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in October found that soldiers were two to four times more willing to report PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts if they were allowed to answer a survey anonymously, rather than put their names on a routine post-deployment screening form. Of the soldiers who screened positive for PTSD or depression, 20 percent said they weren’t comfortable answering honestly on the routine form. The study concluded that the Army’s screening process misses most soldiers with significant mental health problems.”

Chiarelli said that if semantics is keeping soldiers from getting the help they need, the name PTSD needs to change as soon as possible.

“You can have the very, very best treatments in the world, but if you can’t get people to take advantage of them, they don’t do any good,” he said.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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