October 2005 Contents → Commentary http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0510/steinman.htmlTrauma: Journalism's Hidden Malady by Ron Steinman am thinking of trauma, and, after that, post-traumatic stress disorder - PTSD - and how it relates to journalists. I am thinking about Hurricanes Katrina and Rita because they are dominating the news and will do so in their way for many months. As much as anyone in the business of news tries, no one is immune to the effects of tragedy on our psyches. We thrive on it. It sells papers. It brings in audience. It provides an increase in hits on Internet Web sites. War and devastation, whether natural or created by men, have a way of getting our hearts pumping and then changing us forever. Yet, there is a downside. With Katrina, and to a lesser degree with Rita, there is no doubt that many reporters who covered the story were shocked and stunned by what they saw, as well as by what they heard from other reporters. Reporters on big stories rarely work alone. They interact. They feed off each other. There is often a cascading effect on one's mind - especially covering major events - in this or any disaster that helps to create in newspeople a weariness that can eventually lead to the malady, disease, that ultimate illness we now call PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. Reporters are not immune. In my book "Inside Television's First War," published in 1999, I wrote how television journalists suffered the trauma of the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. In the years I covered Vietnam and The Troubles in Northern Ireland, dropping in on occasion to other small wars, revolutions, riots and assorted dustups, I saw breakdowns, near breakdowns, and suffering by the men and women who covered these events for periods lasting just a few weeks to many years. The results were often striking. They took over a person's mind, soul and emotions. One story not in my book that stands out is about a cameraman who after several trips through the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi, refused to return there or to all other assignments in the field. He offered to quit. I did not send him back to the tunnels. He stayed with us for another six months, covering combat when he had to, with reluctance. Now after these many years I realize the toll it had taken on him. After the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense accepted that PTSD was genuine, but they did not really understand it or do much about it. The American military found it reprehensible that men can suffer from combat. At least 25 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD and many still have trouble getting treatment from the government. I personally know many soldiers who still suffer from PTSD and will continue to do so all their lives. According to anecdotal evidence regarding the war in Iraq, the military still looks on PTSD as something not real. Treatment protocols, including drugs and counseling, do exist today but they are difficult to come by. Some treatments are effective. Others are not. As war without end rages in Iraq, I am certain PTSD will continue to take its toll on our men and women in uniform.