Ashley Wise knew her husband was having trouble reintegrating into family and community life. She tried all the recommended pathways. Her comments to a family advocacy counselor mushroomed into domestic abuse charges against her husband. She was at her wits end. ” What do I have to do,” she commented to a friend, “Run naked across the general’s lawn?” This sparked an idea. Wise had her friend take a photo of her naked from the waist up with a pledge on her back: ”Broken by Battle, Wounded by War, My love is forever –to you this I swore. I will: Quiet your silent screams. Help heal your shattered souls. Until once again my love you are whole. Battle BARE. ” The photo went viral and birthed a movement and a web site.
Battling BARE is now an organization that brings awareness and treatment to PTSD sufferers and their families. Battling BARE’s web site, battlingbare.org, is a forum where people can tell their stories, get support and suggestions. The organization has versions of the pledge that are tailored for children, service members, parents and widows.
Although overall media coverage and comment has been positive, some individuals consider the photos inappropriate because of the nudity. I don’t find the photos offensive. I find them bold and brave. These women are uncovering words that are already written on their hearts. Is it nudity that offends viewers, or is it the pain that is now laid bare? This photo campaign brought people’s attention to PTSD and got them talking; that’s a success.
Mental health is fraught with stigma throughout society, not just in the military. People who have diabetes and genetically high cholesterol may feel it’s unfair, but they aren’t made to feel it’s their fault. Our response to PTSD needs to be grounded in research AND compassion. The American Psychological Association noted in a 2008 posting that domestic violence is ” three times more common in veterans with PTSD than among those without it.” The Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for PTSD are conducting a five year joint study that will randomly place 400 couples in domestic violence prevention programs or supportive therapy.
PTSD is not new to the medical profession. There are new therapies and medications that can help. The gap here is cultural, not medical. People don’t choose PTSD. It simply happens, and it effects men and women alike. When Ashley Wise put a pledge on her back, she reminded the military community that mental health problems should not be hidden. If we work on changing attitudes, real healing can take place.