Controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s PTSD comments reveals how the disorder is misunderstood
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) fled civil war in Somalia when she was 8 years old, then spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. As a result, she says, she has post-traumatic stress disorder as an adult. But when she mentioned the condition publicly this week in the context of conflict between the U.S. and Iran, she got pushback from a Republican member of Congress. But psychology experts as well as some veterans say Rep. Jim Banks’s remarks are based on a misconception about PTSD, a mental health condition that can cause flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, and other distressing symptoms. Though it was long associated with soldiers coming home from war, PTSD is also common among children and other civilians who live through war, as well as people who experience sexual assault and other forms of violence. Syrian refugees living in the United States, for example, have rates of PTSD comparable with those among Vietnam veterans, Arash Javanbakht, a psychiatrist and trauma specialist who has worked with refugees, told Vox. In addition to nightmares and flashbacks, the disorder can also cause people to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma, Javanbakht said. People with PTSD also often develop depression as well. PTSD is unfortunately common — around 8 percent of the US population lives with the disorder, Javanbakht said. Rates are much higher among combat veterans, with around 30 percent of soldiers who served in Vietnam developing the condition over the course of their lives. They are also very high among refugees, who “are exposed to a lot of trauma and stress in a cumulative way,” he explained.
January 13, 2020