By Sabrina Huston
There’s been a joke going around social media lately. “I have PTSD-President Trump Stress Disorder. Impeachment is the cure.” The joke has become popular enough that there is now a t-shirt for sale on websites from sunfrog to amazon – including Prime shipping. Articles about “President Trump Stress Disorder” have appeared in numerous publications, including USA Today, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and the International Business Times, often in a mocking light. To use an acronym such as PTSD, which has significant meaning, for this political joke and reality is despicable and inhuman.
Political anxiety is real. Many people are concerned about losing health care or family members and Republicans in Washington continue to ignore the calls of the people. Politically caused anxiety, while it can often be debilitating, is not the same as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and conflating the two is helping no one.
People seeking therapy for anxiety caused by the possibility of their parents or siblings being deported – an increasing occurrence – should not be mislead into believing they have PTSD. That misbelief can hurt chances of therapy being successful or helpful at all.
But the main problem here is not the serious discussion taking place on some media sites and within the psychological community over how to best assist those who fear family separation through ICE. The problem is that mental illness, especially PTSD, has increasingly become a punchline.
Triggers are a real thing for many people. Some people with depression are triggered by graphic descriptions of violence, as it can remind them of episodes of self-harm. Many veterans with PTSD are triggered by loud explosions, such as fireworks, which can send them into traumatic memories. Memories of my suicide attempts are often triggered by classical music. Not all triggers make sense, but they are all legitimate and should be recognized as such. Despite this, a popular meme has been making fun of people who object to racism or graphic imagery with the phrase “triggered” overlaid on an often blurred picture. The mocking of a serious mental health concern has caused many college classes to stop giving trigger warnings due to a lack of understanding by the administration and professors as to what triggers and trigger warnings are. A trigger warning, or content warning, is a brief blurb of what may cause – or trigger – someone’s mental illness symptoms. For example, someone with PTSD will often relive a traumatic memory, including emotions, compulsions, and feelings of anxiety or panic. To not give someone a warning and the opportunity to avoid or mentally prepare themselves for whatever is coming is indeed inhuman and uncaring.
Mental health is a serious issue, especially in the US. In 2014 42,826 people committed suicide in the United States, and 383,000 visited emergency rooms from self-inflicted wounds. The number of suicides is still rising, with an estimated 44,193 committing suicide in 2016. Despite this epidemic, we still treat mental health as a joke, on both the right and the left, as can be seen by the “triggered” memes and the “Impeachment is the cure” t-shirt. Mental health is a serious issue that affects people of all races, genders, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages. It is not a joke, it is not something that can be used as a scapegoat for gun violence, nor something to be turned into a horror trope. It is a serious issue far too many people are afraid to deal with properly, often for fear of being mocked or harassed. So, the next time you think of reposting a “triggered” meme, or saying you have “President Trump Stress Disorder,” remember this: you’re making it harder for people to take care of themselves.