PTSD May Get a NEW Name, In Hopes of Reducing the Stigma

Courtesy of Treatment Solutions

  • In 2010, four Phoenix firefighters took their own lives over the course of seven months. Each one suffered from mental illness, substance abuse, or a combination of the two. Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said, “…you’re a little bewildered as to why that happens. There's a stigma… associated with it… feelings of guilt.”
  • In March of 2012, a young boy died in a Missoula house fire. The local fire department pulled together, held mandatory group therapy sessions and spoke to the public about the crippling mental issues that firefighters face. Jeff Dill, Illinois battalion chief and founder of Counseling Services for Fire Fighters and Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, spoke to NBC: “Not all firefighters are willing to admit that… It's just that stigma that if we ask for help, we're weak and we're failing ourselves."

There’s that word: stigma. So commonly linked to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the stigma attached to PTSD is a main reason why firefighters, military personnel, and/or citizens who suffer may not ask for the help they need – which can put them at more risk of emotional, mental, and physical breakdowns and beyond.

Removing the “Disorder”

In early May 2012, a group of top psychiatrists met at their annual psychiatric conference in Philadelphia to debate changing “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” to “Post-Traumatic Stress Injury,” a change that would be included in the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM – the American Psychological Association’s encyclopedia of mental illnesses that originally helped coin the “disorder” in PTSD back in 1980.

The word “injury,” both many psychiatrists and military officers feel, will help reduce that stigma as it evokes a sense of hope in the ability to heal. And the military has already began calling it “PTS,” removing the last piece of the acronym altogether. “Injury” also suggests a pain that has, in some form or another, been inflicted on someone, by someone else, and was not pre-existing. You can be born with a disorder, but not so much an injury.

But there are those in opposition to the name change, who feel the word “injury” suggests a short-lived affliction, rather than an issue that commonly and potentially haunts people for what could be lifetimes.

According to PBS, Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli spoke at the psychiatric conference and said, “I believe language means something – and it means something if your desire is to help and to treat everyone… To allow a word like ‘disorder’ – which may be no barrier to you whatsoever – to get in the way of the help they need, I find this just absolutely unconscionable.”

Dr. Matthew Friedman, chairman of the committee in charge of updating DSM, said, “The net effect of such a modification would be to tinker with a psychiatric diagnosis rather than help patients. To change to PTSI without anything else would accomplish nothing positive."

Weigh In!

We’re very interested to hear what you – the volunteer fire, emergency, and rescue community – thinks.

Do you feel changing the name of PTSD will help reduce the stigma, and change its perception? Are you against a name change, and find it insulting? Do you think it even matters at all? Tell us what you think at

Note: The NVFC offers a Member Assistance Program through Treatment Solutions. The toll-free, confidential hotline provides immediate assistance for you and your family members with issues disrupting work, life, or overall wellness. Information is available on the Members-Only section of the NVFC web site under Member Benefits.