On Monday, Donald Trump spoke to the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, where he made some controversial remarks about post-traumatic stress disorder.
During the Q&A in his speech to American war veterans, Trump was asked about the suicide epidemic affecting the U.S. military.
“When people come back from war and combat and they see maybe what the people in this room have seen many times over, and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” Trump said.
His comment was met with silence, while social media quickly lit up with anger.
Trump either thinks vets that commit suicide can’t hack it like men or genuinely doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
— Tory (@BigOleSportsFan) October 3, 2016
His comment, made in a room full of veterans, cannot be ignored.
For one, the implication that veterans who die by suicide or suffer from mental health problems are simply not “strong” or “can’t handle it” is not only inaccurate but reinforces a dangerous, life-threatening attitude toward mental health.
Roughly 5% of all U.S. troops have been diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD diagnoses are nearly double that for veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those numbers only account for the veterans who have received treatment. Like many mental health issues, PTSD is stigmatized and often goes unreported or untreated, which means an unknown number of veterans could be suffering silently, afraid to ask for the treatment they need, for fear of being perceived as weak.
For those who do seek help, researchers have found that the suggestion to “toughen up” only increases cases of depression. PTSD is a real mental health disorder that affects millions every year, not just veterans.
Furthermore, Trump’s implication that veterans who die from suicide because they’re weak is, effectively, pouring a gallon of gasoline on top of the already destructive fire of toxic masculinity.
In simple terms, toxic masculinity is the socially constructed idea that being a “man” means being tough and unemotional, or even violent and sexually aggressive.
“Toughness” has also been a key part of the Trump campaign:
Our country is totally divided and our enemies are watching. We are not looking good, we are not looking smart, we are not looking tough!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2016
To say that suicidal veterans are not strong or that PTSD only affects those who “can’t handle” service doesn’t help anyone, and it could hurt a whole lot more.
Trump’s words demonstrate a serious misunderstanding of the issues that affect veterans. They represent a demonstrably harmful attitude about mental health and how to deal with PTSD and depression.
To be fair, Trump’s full comments were made in support of providing more health care of veterans — not less. He even proposed that the government should pay for the health care of all veterans, not just at Veterans Affairs locations, but at any hospital.
Anyone seeking the role of commander in chief, though, should understand and empathize with the very real repercussions of putting your life on the line for your country.
Trump’s misunderstanding of what veterans experience when they return home and his dismissive attitude toward PTSD and suicide shows he doesn’t truly understand what veterans need beyond just “more money.”