PTSD – When Guns Become the Voice of Mental Illness – By Yvonne Sam


By Yvonne Sam


Yvonne Sam

Abstract:  The scourge of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is running rampant and unchecked among our returning veterans, with fatal consequences. The Canadian & U. S Government and Ministries of Veteran Affairs are being called upon to immediately address the plight of returning soldiers. We cannot send them overseas on a mission, where in battle their lives are put on the line yet when they return home not enough is being done for them.Injured soldiers, who have served their country with courage and dedication, are slipping through the cracks of an ad hoc system.  


The events of recent times in both America and Canada,namely the shooting at Fort Lauderdale Airport and the killings in Nova Scotia stand as stark reminders of an ongoing problem that has ceased crying out and is now shooting out. Yes, as a society we can no longer look at mental illness the same way, nor allow it to be treated the same way, for the stigma of mental illness has succeeded in giving us astigmatism.In days of yore, mental disorders were considered to be reflective of the unhappiness of the gods, or seen as tangible proof that someone was demon-possessed. In the classic novel, by Ken Kesey  ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, the sad truth regarding mental illness and its deep rooted stigma was brought to the forefront, aptly described as , “the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me – and the great voice of millions chanting, ‘Shame! Shame! Shame”

When mental illness and its gravity are misunderstood, damage is done. Moreover, the struggle is exacerbated, when we fail to give individuals our understanding, humaneness and support, when they need it the most.  It is usually at this point that a message is sent via the firearm, as in the case of Esteban Santiago and Lionel Desmond. (click names for details)

Immediately following a crime, we have a period of incertitude, wherein we attempt to make sense of an obviously senseless situation. As pieces of information are released we try to piece together the puzzle in our minds, and try to see if the crime was preventable. The problem is that we may only have a few pieces of an otherwise complex puzzle, with the key pieces of the puzzle in the possession of the deceased, making it somewhat impossible to reach albeit the truth behind the matter. Even when the stigma is dealt with and the mentally ill seeks the intervention of trained professionals, yet even at this levelmisdiagnosis not to mention lack of or inadequate treatment runs rampant.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition that is usually set off by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Presenting symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, and severe anxiety, in addition to uncontrollable thoughts about the event. In the case of Esteban Santiago, it is blatantly evident that he knew he was in desperate need of help, and went to seek it before he gunned down five people, and wounded six others at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. It is stated that months before the incident Santiago walked into a FBI office in Anchorage, and told the law agents that he  was hearing voices, was being forced to fight for ISIS, and that the CIA was controlling his mind to watch ISIS videos. He was briefly hospitalized in a psychiatric facility, discharged after a voluntary four day evaluation, with no further follow-up or mental health screening. His family further attested to the sick condition of the 26 year old war veteran, loudly proclaiming that they noticed his increasingly erratic behavior following his return from Iraq. Incidentally Santiago was also the licensed holder of a Walther 9mm semi-automatic handgun. It is obvious to the most moronic or myopic that someone with Santiago’s history should not be a weapon holder let alone be allowed to fly with it in his luggage.

In dealing with Santiago’s case, mental health authorities have stated that he fell through the crack, an excuse that is as common as dirt. Esteban Santiago clearly and openly demonstrated Schneiderian first rank symptoms of schizophrenia—auditory hallucinations, thought insertion and interruption, thought broadcasting, feelings or actions experienced as made or influenced by  external agents. Let us focus on the position of the crack, who is monitoring the crack, and how Esteban Santiago managed to fall through the said crack.

In Acts 8: 36 the eunuch said to Philip as they went on their way,“See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” Santiago presented himself to both the legal and mental health authorities. Pray tell, what hindered them from thoroughly investigating him— a procedure that may have saved five lives. Alaska is one of 17 states with no restrictions beyond federal law for keeping guns away from the mentally ill, and also has the nation’s highest suicide rate. There is no finger pointing here, instead the problem appears to be one of proper diagnosis and treatment, not being available.

Lionel Desmond a Canadian soldier was found dead on January 3, 2017 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a home in Upper Big Tracadie, Nova Scotia. Dead also from apparent gunshot wounds were his wife, 10 year old daughter, and his mother Brenda Desmond.  Here we have a picture similar to the one played out by Esteban Santiago, except that the victims are family members. According to family and friends, Desmond was a kind and funny person, who changed after a tour in Afghanistan in 2007. In May 2016, the former soldier received treatment in Montreal, but according to relatives there was little help after that.  To further worsen the situation, and in a desperate effort towards remediation, according to his wife, Desmond tried to check himself into a mental health unit at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish and was told there were no beds. She said he was also told they did not have his files.

It is obvious that a major overhaul of mental health treatment is long overdue, and this should be country wide. For far too long, mental illness has been treated as the elephant in the room, and only gets attention when tragedy of a noteworthy nature strikes. Not for a nano second should we confuse psychiatry with psychology, for although used interchangeably, are quite different.

Psychologists tend to concentrate on the mind and an individual’s thinking, while a psychiatrist is able to prescribe medication and use more medical-based treatments.

May the Government assist those who have faithfully served them to quiet the ghosts of their war.


Yvonne Sam.

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