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Suffering Narratives

On September 14, as horrifying images broadcast from New Orleans dominated the nation's headlines, USA Today, citing as its source Charles Currie, head of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, reported that as many as a quarter of the Hurricane Katrina "evacuees" would fall victim to Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) and require long-term professional care. Thus, as many as 250,000 of the approximately one million people displaced by Katrina are walking disasters waiting to happen all over again. At some point in the coming months, according to the current wisdom of the mental-health establishment, these people will begin to reexperience the frightening events that led to their displacement: recurring nightmares, crippling phobias, and anxiety more intense than the feelings generated by the original experience. In short, they will add their numbers to the ranks of the millions of Americans who, since 1980, have been diagnosed with PTSD, a mental disease whose taxonomic history is suspect, to say the least.

According to Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, authors of One Nation Under Therapy, PTSD's inclusion as a taxonomic category in the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) was, in large part, the result of a long campaign on the part of Vietnam veterans and their advocates. At the forefront of the campaign in...

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