The War Against PTSD
How one machine and two Minnesota researchers are forever changing the stigma surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
(page 2 of 2)
But even with such seemingly irrefutable evidence, not everyone puts PTSD on par with war’s more “traditional” injuries.
The U.S. Department of Defense still refuses to add PTSD to the list of injuries that merit a Purple Heart medal. And many soldiers still think that if they disclose their mental struggles, they won’t be deployed again—or that they’ll be judged by their peers and commanding officers, says staff sergeant Chad McNiesh, a medic in the Minnesota Army National Guard.
“I see a lot of my guys struggling with it, but they don’t want to be stuck at a desk job or perceived as weak,” he says. “So they don’t say anything.”
What they don’t realize, he adds, is that this fear is largely unwarranted.
McNiesh has been deployed three times in the past eight years. After returning home from his second deployment, he began experiencing extreme bouts of anger and paranoia, often triggered by everyday situations. He sought help and was diagnosed with mild PTSD. After a series of counseling sessions and medications, his symptoms subsided enough that he was also allowed to return overseas.
“There’s still a stigma attached to PTSD, but there shouldn’t be,” he says. “It’s bound to happen when you’re constantly exposed to those circumstances. There’s no shame in admitting that.”
Armed with their MEG scans and encouraged by veterans’ increasing willingness to participate in their studies, Engdahl and Georgopoulos are already looking ahead to their next project—one that could center around yet another way to spot the PTSD stamp in victims’ brains.
On a recent sunny afternoon, I got a call from Dr. Engdahl. “Apostolos just called me from California,” he said, a buzz of excitement in his voice. “He said that they’ve been comparing functional MRI scans with MEG scans, and have been able to spot PTSD in both!”
He went on to explain the significance of the discovery: “If we can figure out what the PTSD stamp looks like in functional MRI scans, we won’t be limited to using only the MEG to identify the disorder in patients. Almost every hospital has an MRI machine—patients could be scanned and treated anywhere!”
And that, coupled with a recent influx of research money from Washington, D.C., is big news. “These are the silver linings in the dark cloud of war,” says Engdahl. “The future is pretty bright.”
Ellen Burkhardt is the assistant editor of Minnesota Monthly.