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HONY Tackles Myths About PTSD

Note: Some of the stories mentioned in this blog include topics that may be triggering, with themes such as suicide, PTSD, grief, and traumatic military experiences.

I am a longtime dedicated fan of Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York. Like, huge. I follow HONY on Facebook and Tumblr, check the pages daily for updates. I ordered the book published last Christmas, and will talk the ear off of anyone who’s willing to listen to me fangirl about how great it is.

HONY is a photojournalism project that interviews everyday people from all walks of life on the streets of New York. It’s interesting because many people share stories about personal struggles or experiences that you never would have expected from just looking at them. Stanton has a gift for revealing the interesting and often complex aspects of the lives of his interviewees.

In the last month, HONY has been doing a segment featuring American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is in partnership with the Headstrong project, a mental health program for veterans. The stories are heartwarming and heartbreaking. Many of the veterans have diverse opinions and experiences, but all have been affected profoundly by their time in service in some way.

One topic in particular that came up was PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after someone has experienced trauma. In particular, one quote really stood out to me:

“PTSD is not Uncle Joe from Vietnam. It’s not homelessness. It’s not a heroin addiction. It’s not the end of the world and it’s certainly not suicide. PTSD is an anxiety disorder and we can treat it. But you’ve got to get help.”

The interviewee was Gerard Ilaria, the head clinician at the Headstrong Project. He went on to talk about a variety of really interesting and important information about PTSD. He mentioned how PTSD is an illness of the nervous system, and how stigma, particularly in the military, prevents people from getting treatment. He describes how PTSD happens when your brain cannot process something traumatic, so the person feels like they are still living in the experience, with all the associated panic and discomfort. Finally, and interestingly, he makes a connection between the experiences the people he’s working with have gone through, and his own experience while caring for his late partner, who had AIDS.

What I loved about Ilaria’s interview is that he blew all kinds of myths about PTSD out of the water. It is an illness like any other, and treatable! No one should feel ashamed for struggling with this disorder, and we should not be clinging to false ideas about what PTSD should “look” like, or the outdated idea that those with the disorder just need to “toughen up”.

In particular, his quote and his personal reflections really brought out the idea that PTSD can affect anyone, at any point in their life. Although veterans are at higher risk, you don’t need to be one to have PTSD. In fact, any kind of traumatic experience can bring it on. Assigning labels and expectations can prevent people from getting help, because they don’t fit the typical “profile”.

Overall it was a great piece! Hopefully, it will inspire more veterans and people from all backgrounds suffering from post traumatic stress to consider treatment. There is hope! But the first step is seeking help.

For more information on PTSD, check out our information page:

To see the photo series, check out HONY’s website: