Charles Barber writes in Salon that we now live in the Age of Trauma.
Every era has a particular mental disorder, you see, and for 21st century America that disorder is PTSD. He writes:
“(T)he appropriate diagnosis of the last decade — since Sept. 11, 2001, to be exact — may be PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course legions of American soldiers have received the diagnosis, and enormous resources, appropriately, have gone into its treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly 30 percent of the more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated in veterans’ hospitals and clinics are diagnosed with PTSD.
But in the past 10 years, even non-veterans have been engaged in an ongoing narrative of American trauma. After 9/11 came Katrina, then the economic meltdown and the recession that never seems to end. This past year saw Sandy followed by Newtown. Along the way there’s been the mass killings at Virginia Tech, at Northern Illinois University, and in a Colorado movie theater. There also seems to be a deepening sense that one can never fully escape from potential catastrophe, not on a Boston street on a promising spring day or in a Connecticut elementary school a few weeks before Christmas.
In the popular perception, the locus, both psychologically and geographically, of the tragedies has shifted. They’ve gone from being “out there” — in, say, the remote parts of the South or West, or the inner cities — to “right here,” in respectable, suburban America. The latest chapter is the bombing in Boston, with its indelible images — the 70-year-old runner laid out on the ground; the impossibly innocent smiling face of the 8-year-old boy who was killed. And it further cements post-traumatic stress in the popular psyche and lexicon in a similar way in which depression, bipolar disorder and ADD — and the drugs to treat them — were popularized in earlier eras.”
I’m quite sympathetic to the idea that every era can be known by its particular form of mental disorder – although for my money we’re still in the “Age of Anxiety.” While Barber is right to say that trauma is being “normalized” in America, I still see far, far, more people experiencing existential anxiety than I do even mild forms of PTSD. We want to know if we’re doing the right thing, and how we’d know that. We want to know if we’ll hold on to our economic life and our social capital far more than we want to know we’ll live to see next year. The question America wants answered isn’t “Am I safe,” but “Am I okay?” That’s anxiety.
But the thing that really astonishes me is what comes next, where Barber writes: “Yes, PTSD is the reigning diagnosis of the day. But unlike other diagnoses in other eras, there is no clear drug and no definitive way of treating PTSD.”
Wait … we had a definitive cure for depression? And nobody told me? Continue reading Wait, we cured depression?