Sgt. Robert Bales and the nature of PTSD

March 27, 2012

Some, including his lawyers, say Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 people in Afghanistan, may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Others disagree.

Listen to Dr. Frank Ochberg on the Afternoon Shift here

Nevertheless, the incident, Bates' frequent tours of duty in Afghanistan and the growing violence in the country have put PTSD back in the spotlight. In fact, WBUR's On Point devoted an entire hour to the subject yesterday.

Of course, PTSD affects more than just soliders in war zones.  It affects children and families living in such areas, victims of natural disasters, and some say, even affects the residents of some of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. 

Dr. Frank Ochberg was among the scientists who came to define PTSD during its earlier years.  He's a clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and one of the nation's leading authorities on the psychological effects of trauma.  He's lectured widely on the topic and more recently has been devoting time to the impact of trauma on journalists through his associations with the Dart Center, where a fellowship for mid-career journalists is named in his honor.

Since it first emerged as a diagnosis in the wake of the Vietnam War, PTSD has entered the public consciousness.  But Dr. Ochberg also says PTSD can be misunderstood and misinterpreted in the public context - and it even may be time for a name change.

So what is and isn't PTSD?  And where does the science, the public conversation and the public policy around PTSD need to go next?