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Opinion: Tim Kennedy’s problematic perspective on PTSD

Breaking down the problems with Kennedy’s controversial comments.

Texas Iraq War Veteran Struggles to Cope with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

On Wednesday, UFC Middleweight Tim Kennedy posted a message to his Facebook profile. In the post, Kennedy gave advice to those suffering from PTSD in what he called a message of encouragement.

The post was received negatively by some. The particular line that offended people was when Tim Kennedy said that the way to get better is to “stop being a p****.”

Although this statement is problematic for many reasons, there is more than just that one line that needs to be examined and criticized. Kennedy framed the message as one of inspiration for his fellow veterans. Kennedy believes that soldiers who suffer from PTSD can find relief from their symptoms by keeping their mind busy through work, physical activity and, “serving the community like it’s your reason to live.”

Research on mental health does show a positive correlation between physical activity and an improved mental state. Unfortunately when it comes to PTSD, having a healthy, active lifestyle is not enough.

“Exercise should be used as a healthful adjunct to working with a trained mental health professional. It is important that you take precautions when first beginning a fitness program.” says Certified Exercise Specialist Carol Woodbury.

Places like the PTSD Association, Mayo Clinic, Canadian Mental Health Association, National Institute of Mental Health or the Headstrong Project all advocate mental therapy.

“PTSD creates the feeling that something terrible is always around the corner. It can cause anxiety, confusion, and isolation from loved ones. But worst of all, it can make it seem like things will never get better,” says Gerard Ilaria, head clinician at Headstrong Project.

“The maddening thing about PTSD is that it’s completely fucking fixable. PTSD is an anxiety disorder and we can treat it,” Ilaria told Humans of New York, “But you’ve got to get help. In the military, you hear things like ‘shake it off’ or ‘rub dirt on it.’ If your nervous system is broken, it needs to be fixed. Just like a broken leg needs to be fixed. It’s not weakness. It’s science. And it can be solved.”

Ilaria’s point about the military mindset having a negative impact on PTSD patients connects closely with Kennedy’s statement. It’s easy to understand that soldiers are used to tough love and that Kennedy’s words are founded by that mindset. The problem is that it is the wrong approach.

The correct approach is in depth psychological analysis, followed by a stern regimen of mental therapy. This is the process that is unanimously agreed upon by the scientific community. This leads us to the most problematic statement in Tim Kennedy’s rant on PTSD.

Tim Kennedy gave a giant middle finger to those trying to aid soldiers who suffer from PTSD using scientific methods. Despite research proving that these methods help, proof that what Kennedy believes in isn’t true and the fact that Kennedy doesn’t know more than trained professionals, he believes that his way is right.

Tim Kennedy’s words can have huge consequences. A soldier who suffers from PTSD will not cure their night terrors by putting in a hard day’s work. It won’t help veterans avoid situations that trigger memories of a traumatic events.

That is the type of advice that results in 22 veterans committing suicide every day. Soldiers don’t need an inspirational Facebook post and a nice kick in the ass to cure their PTSD. What they need is real, one-on-one, professional help, not advice from a soldier. A football player is not an expert on concussions just because they have played and experienced hard hits on the field. In the same way, just because Kennedy was a high-ranking, accomplished soldier, it does not mean that he is an expert on PTSD and should be handing out advice.

Tim Kennedy began his Facebook post with the line, “I'm probably the last person on Earth you should ask about this stuff,” and those words are profoundly true. What a person should do is seek professional advice from someone who’s sole job is to help treat their ailment. You would seek a doctor’s advice on any other medical issue, and PTSD should be treated the same.

Despite being widely regarded as the best way to treat PTSD, more than 63% of returning veterans say they would not seek the help of mental health professionals. If you or a loved one suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is strongly advised that you seek mental therapy from a licensed professional.