An Interesting Article on PTSD in Survivors of War in light of the war in Ukraine previously published on Medium and Psychology

Grant H Brenner

Grant H Brenner

Mar 14

How PTSD Becomes Self-Sustaining in Civilian Survivors of War

Research maps out how trauma takes on a life of its own

Photo Credit: Grant H Brenner

New research on Balkan war survivors sheds light on the persistence of PTSD.

As the war in Ukraine wages, and the world watches millions of refugees flee for their lives, we are reminded of countless prior wars. While media attention mobilizes our outrage and the outpouring of immediate help to affected civilian populations, what happens after the wars end?

We know that war takes a massive toll on the people, but our understanding of how the effects unfold for years after is still evolving. Do we forget to pay attention after the cameras stop rolling? What can we learn from past wars about post- traumatic stress?


Researchers Schlechter, Hellmann, McNally and Morina conducted a study of civilian survivors of 1990s Balkan wars, including those who had stayed in their countries of origin (including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia) and those who had settled in Germany, Italy and the UK. The results wee recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress (2022).

Study authors focused on PTSD among war survivors to understand how symptoms emerge and change over time, and specifically how earlier symptoms predict and maintain later symptoms. Common symptoms of PTSD, including avoidance of trauma and emotional numbing, get in the way of people getting treatment, as do systemic issues like stigma and lack of resources, including paucity of qualified clinicians and lack of screening in at-risk groups in primary care settings.

Up to 227 million adult war survivors are estimated to have PTSD. A systemic review of PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) (2021) in countries affected by war in the last three decades suggests that 316 million people suffer from war-related PTSD and/or MDD. Half of the people in that study had both PTSD and depression, with about a quarter of people having one or the other, but not both.

PTSD can take on a life of its own, especially if left unchecked. Once trauma sets the brain off on a dysregulated pathway, it can become a self-regenerating system. Brain network activity is altered by trauma; for example, we may miss what’s right in front of us-problems in a relationship, a health issue-because we are so busy guarding against the return of past threats. Intrusive memories of past trauma may trigger further hyperactivation, leading to a cascade of symptoms.

Avoidance, akin to procrastination, may reduce short-term distress at the expense of preventing long-term restoration because we cannot become desensitized to traumatic memories. Understanding the specific pathways by which PTSD is sustained is key for successful intervention.

Survivors of War

Schlechter and colleagues recruited several hundred civilian war survivors to arrive at a final group of 698 participants, who were assessed for symptoms eight years post-war and then again one year later. Participants completed the Life Stressor Checklist-Revised to appraise stressful (potentially traumatic) experiences before, during and after conflict. PTSD was assessed using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview and the Impact of Events Scale-Revised.

PTSD symptoms of re-experiencing/intrusion (memories, intrusive thoughts, nightmares), avoidance/emotional numbing, and hyperarousal ( fear/ panic, being easily startled, rage, etc.) were analyzed using network theory to determine first the correlations among symptoms at each time point and, second, the relationship between earlier and later symptoms, to show which symptoms in the present cause which future symptoms ( causation).

The Anatomy of PTSD

Eight- and Nine-Year Time Points

Overall, there were moderate to high levels of trauma, with average IES-R PTSD scores of 2.45 at 8 years and 1.98 at 9 years (with 4 being most severe). The most frequent traumatic experiences reported were lack of food, lack of shelter, shelling, siege, and finding out a loved one had died violently.

At each time point (cross-sectional analysis)-eight years and nine years post-war-findings were similar for PTSD . The symptoms most strongly connected to PTSD were trouble staying asleep, trouble falling asleep, feeling as if trauma weren’t real or hadn’t happened, feeling numb emotionally, trying not to think about trauma, and trying to remove trauma from one’s memory.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Essential Reads

There was a moderately strong correlation between thinking about trauma when one did not want to and avoiding getting upset if thinking about trauma (suppressing emotion).

Symptoms with the strongest impact (“expected influence centralities”) were having strong feelings about traumatic experiences, being jumpy and easily startled, and trying not to think about traumatic experiences. Network patterns were equivalent at eight and nine years post-war, but overall symptom severity decreased somewhat over time.

Which Symptoms Cause Future PTSD to Persist?

Looking at how earlier symptoms lead to later ones, network analysis (“cross-lagged panel network”) found five key relationships, in order of descending strength, as shown in the graph above by arrows connecting one symptom to the next. Thicker arrows indicate stronger causality:

  1. Difficulty concentrating led to trying to remove trauma from one’s memory.
  2. Difficulty concentrating led to trouble staying asleep.
  3. Trouble staying asleep led to pictures about trauma popping into one’s mind.
  4. Trying not to talk about trauma led to trying to remove trauma from memory.
  5. Reminders of trauma causing physical reactions led to difficulty concentrating.

The biggest predictors of future PTSD symptoms were:

  1. Getting physical reactions from traumatic reminders.
  2. Difficulty concentrating.
  3. Trouble staying asleep.

The symptoms most caused by prior symptoms were:

  1. Avoiding letting oneself get upset.
  2. Trying to remove trauma from memory.
  3. Acting like one was back at the time of the trauma.
  4. Dreaming about trauma.

Unpacking the Persistence of PTSD

Participants in this sample had a significant burden of post-traumatic symptoms, reflecting the findings from earlier studies on war trauma. Eight years later, they continued to report a high level of symptoms, which were lower the next year. It’s tempting to wonder whether participation in the study itself had a therapeutic benefit, by combating avoidance and raising awareness of problematic symptoms.

Only 38.4 percent of the participants had received mental health services, and yet almost 90 percent had seen a primary care practitioner, highlighting the critical importance of screening in primary care settings.

Addressing the identified pain points may be useful in hastening the resolution of PTSD, a subject that future research can clarify. Reducing avoidance-gently increasing engagement with trauma-is important for treatment to be effective and key to recovery for many PTSD sufferers. Improving concentration may help improve sleep quality, which in turn could reduce the frequency with which traumatic memories spontaneously arise. Reducing traumatic memories reduces reminders of trauma, which would then be expected to reduce physical symptoms interfering with concentration. Body work can address physical symptoms of trauma, which increase traumatic reactions, and so on.

I Am Not My PTSD

Traumatic dynamics can end up taking over how our brains process information, experience, and relationships. Trauma can overshadow regular day-to-day experience long after the threat has passed, creating an all-present context that may be significantly disconnected from what is actually happening and leading to frequent distorted perceptions, misunderstanding, functional disturbances, and maladaptive coping.

In the extreme, PTSD may be mistaken for one’s personality, especially with early or pervasive trauma, making it difficult for people to get in touch with their authentic sense of self and shaping life choices in regrettable ways. Recognizing PTSD and addressing key therapeutic levers is a potential game-changer: The often difficult work of recovery pays off with less future regret and greater self-regard, security, and life satisfaction. We have a clearer understanding of how war causes PTSD on a collective level, and left wondering how PTSD contributes to future outbreaks of war through triggering, avoidance and excessive aggressive reactions to perceived threat.

Graph Abbreviations

In1 = Any reminder brought back feelings about it; In2 = Other things kept making me think about it; In3 = I thought about it even when I didn’t mean to; In4 = Pictures about it popped into my mind; In5 = I found myself acting like I was back at that time; In6 = I had waves of strong feelings about it.

Av1 = Avoided letting myself get upset when I thought about; Av2 = I stayed away from reminders of it; Av3 = I tried not to think about it; Av4 = Lot of feelings about it; but didn’t deal with them; Av5 = I tried to remove it from my memory; Av6 = I tried not to talk about it.

Ha1 = I felt irritable and angry; Ha2 = I was jumpy and easily startled; Ha3 = I had trouble concentrating; Ha4 = Reminders of it caused me to have physical reactions; Ha5 = I felt watchful and on guard.

Nb1 = I felt as if it hadn’t happened or it wasn’t real; Nb2 = My feelings about it were kind of numb.

Sd1 = I had trouble staying asleep; Sd2 = I had trouble falling asleep; Sd3 = I had dreams about it


Hoppen TH, Priebe S, Vetter I, et al. Global burden of post- traumatic stress disorder and major depression in countries affected by war between 1989 and 2019: a systematic review and meta- analysis. BMJ Global Health 2021;6:e006303. doi:10.1136/ bmjgh-2021–006303

Schlechter, P., Hellmann, J. H., McNally, R. J., & Morina, N. (2022). The longitudinal course of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in war survivors: Insights from cross-lagged panel network analyses. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1–12.

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Profile in Brave: Actress Victoria Maxwell talks on the intersection between spirituality and mental illness

Courtesy of Victoria Maxwell

“I went into a blissful state with powerful insights which led to a florid psychosis,” she said. “But the medical system pathologized the entire experience and didn’t give me space to tell them about the beginning part which was personally profound.”

Victoria Maxwell

Canadian actress Victoria Maxwell was quite the accomplished actress in the nineties acting and producing such films and television series as 21 Jump Street, the X-Files, MacGyver, Spin the Bottle, and acting alongside David Duchovney, John Travolta, and Johnny Depp. 

At 25, her life and career took another twist when she had a psychosis brought on by a meditation retreat, and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

One time during a mania she ran naked through the streets, and now she’s sharing her story to help others feel they are not alone. She began writing and performing skits for a Canadian disability arts festival on her story. And now, created a career speaking and performing these short plays to audiences around the world. 

She calls herself the Bipolar Princess, which is coming full-circle to where she was twenty-five years ago cycling in and out of hospitals in denial of her illness. She turned her illness into her superpower using her skills as an actress to guide her. She doesn’t do television and film acting anymore due to the stress of rejection and financial instability of the career. 

Her short one-woman performances include Crazy for Life and Funny You don’t look crazy, a performance about working with mental illness. These are available for viewing on her web site for purchase but you can also find a trailer for Crazy for Life on Youtube

Her trip through insanity began at a meditation retreat. She had never done any yoga or meditation so her body and mind were quite unprepared for the insights she would receive. 

“I went into a blissful state with powerful insights which led to a florid psychosis,” she said. “But the medical system pathologized the entire experience and didn’t give me space to tell them about the beginning part which was personally profound.”

For this reason, she refused to accept her illness and cycled back through the hospital system frightened that this would be her life.

She finally found a psychiatrist who helped her see that she could have a spiritual experience and still have a mental illness. She was lucky to find this man. In Canada, due to universal healthcare, psychiatrist fees are covered but there is a waiting list oftentimes and not as much choice in who you see. 

“This was the first time I trusted a psychiatrist who said I didn’t have to let go of insights into meditation but could also take care of my mental health needs.”

Her psychiatrist happened to be a beatnik from the sixties. He told her it sounded like her experience was an altered state. He didn’t lump it in with being negative. 

“I was still experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety. He invited me to see if medication works and how it affects you and we’ll go from there. This was quite pivotal for me.”

Medication did work for her. Although, she’s had to play with the dosages over the years. Now at 55, menopause plays a role in her moods too. 

She describes her insights from meditation the way Maslov described peak experiences. There’s a separation from the ego and you feel one with the universe. She saw her own identity as I am not my thoughts, feelings and mind. 

She believes she had the psychosis because “I hadn’t created enough space in my psychic container. I hadn’t done any yoga or meditation before so it was impossible to hold these insights and sustain them.” 

Also, trauma from her childhood started to come up. Maxwell grew up an only child in a home where both parents had mental illness. Her father undiagnosed and her mother was diagnosed bipolar and got little help. 

Today, she meditates daily but she has to titrate her spirituality into small steps instead of great fireworks displays. Meditation for her is learning to be present in her body, watching her breath and scanning her body. 

“Sometimes when trauma and anxiety are triggered, meditation can make me more agitated. Sitting meditation is unhelpful then. Sometimes I need to be physical and not just sit on a cushion watching my breath stewing in anxiety.”

During these times, she’ll go for a run, dance in her kitchen, walk outside or in the forest, or pet her dog.

Other things she does to cope with her anxiety and depression besides meditation are exercise, chi gong like tai chi, talk therapy, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), accepting her situation and knowing what her values are and taking the next right action. 

She values her work that allows her to be of service, friendship she makes sure to reach out to people, and making sure she has self-compassion, which is sometimes the hardest thing for her. She has to give herself a lot of kindness. 

“Sometimes my inner critic is mean to me,” she said. She sometimes feels she is doing something wrong to be feeling like this. Then, she remembers it is just an illness.

Her bipolar and trauma feed each other. “Trauma can affect my body chemistry and because I have a susceptibility to mood and energy shifts it can feed off each other if I have a trauma reaction.”

“It’s easy to dissociate then to be safe and present in my body,” she said. “It’s like peeling the onion. We learn so much about ourselves and then there is another layer.”

An apt metaphor for someone who fancies herself a lacoto-ovo vegetarian and is always trying to vegetarian recipes. 

“I feel the more I do, the more I remember who I am.”

Healing from trauma puts us in survival mode and we don’t have the luxury of hobbies. Maxwell gets to be introduced to what she likes and doesn’t every day. 

She’s becoming avid about sewing on her 1960s Singer sewing machine. Her next project is a pair of pajama pants.

In her job as a writer, speaker and performer, she understands her limitations and with self-care skills has figured out how to transcend them. She sticks to the things she’s good at and doesn’t try to be someone she’s not.

In early recovery, she worked a 9-5 office job. It was helpful for the stability and structure but she craved to be more creative. This is when she wrote a few scenes about her psychosis and read them to the disability arts festival. Over the years, she kept doing this and it blossomed into the career she has today.

She writes skits for CRESTBD, a Canadian research team, who studies the psychosocial and quality of life issues in bipolar disorder. They commissioned her to write her experiences with stigma and perform them to audiences. The research proved that narrative theatre reduces stigma and discrimination. I told her about the This is My Brave organization in America which uses theatrics and storytelling to do the same thing. 

She is also working with the Canadian health authority to tell the stories of people with dual diagnosis who have experienced the criminal justice system in three animated videos. This is a three-year project. She’ll be posting the videos on her web site soon.

Today she blogs for Psychology Today, and others, and writes plays and keynotes on her story with mental illness to inspire and educate others. She has won 14 awards including the Entertainment Industrial Council PRISM Award, SAMHSA Voice Award, best foreign stage play at Moondance Film festival, and she’s one of the top ten entertainers with disabilities. You can find her at

My 8-Fold Path to Wellness in College: How I Thrived and So can You

I promised you my 8-Fold Path to Staying Stable and completing your degree. Not everything may work for you. It is up to you do tailor it and design your own road map. 

*Stigma: Combatting stigma or discrimination requires education of yourself first. Then, you must educate others. Give them pamphlets from NAMI or Active Minds or invite them to an Active Minds event on campus. Open the dialogue with your roommate and friends. First check their feelings out about the issue. Then, if comfortable with what they say, disclose yourself. Explain what it’s like for you and how they might help. You might even get a reaction like someone in their family has a mental illness. 

Disclosing to professors is tricky. You want to get the fair advantage and not seem like you want more from the professor than other students. At the same time, you want to make them aware of your disability and how it impacts your schoolwork. The Americans with Disabilities Act ADA will protect you and support you when talking with professors. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has put out a guidebook on the law for college students. You will want to be direct and not get into too much details of your illness. Just explain how your disability affects your schoolwork. If asking for an accommodation, be polite and be prepared to compromise.

  • Eat Well:         You will want to eat a variety of foods. What works for me is a low carb, low sugar diet high in greens and lean protein. Limit junk food. Find a balance of foods that fuel you and make that your daily routine. Drinking green juice is a good replacement for coffee. Coffee is a stimulant and will make you wired. Limit it to one cup a day, if any. Watch your sugar intake. Sugar is the poor man’s cocaine as a therapist once told me. Everything has sugar in it so this one is tricky. If you stick to a diet of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, nuts and seeds, you will be fine.
  • Abstinence from Alcohol and Drugs is Best: If you take psychotrophic medication, it is best to stay away from substances that alter your mind state. Alcohol, weed, opioids, cocaine, LSD etc…will alter your mind and make your symptoms worse.
  • Hitting the Books: If you are like me and focusing is a problem, study in a quiet place like a library that is well-lit. Highlight important passages, then summarize them in a notebook. Read slowly and summarize after each section break. Study best during the day after class when you are fresh. Try not to pull all-nighters. Having a planner and a daily schedule will allow you to carve out study time so you won’t have to cram. 
  • Dating: There is only one rule for dating: Disclose early on so you can gage their reaction. If he gives you the “good in bed” response, Run. Stick with people that lift you up. If you sense signs of danger in a relationship, don’t be afraid to call a Domestic Violence crisis line for help on how to get out of it. 
  • Exercise: It is important to find some form of movement you love doing and do it daily or a few times a week. Running, Rowing, Weight Lifting, Yoga, Dance, Swimming are just to name a few. Try and do cardio and strength training and remember to do your stretching first. 
  • Friendships: Like dating, stick around the people who lift you up. Listen hard and share the conversation. Remember a good friend is a good listener first. Write encouragement notes to them. Send care packages. Remember birthdays. 
  • Meditation:     Connecting to a higher purpose or the universe is good for the soul. Meditation is incredibly calming and a good tool in your wellness basket. If agitated, don’t do sitting meditation. It can make you worse sitting in your anxiety. Try walking meditation or call your therapist instead. 

Non-Profit Spotlight: Today I Matter on Addiction

At the age of 29, Timothy Lally died of a heroin overdose. He had struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks and tried traditional treatments that didn’t work. When he discovered opioid pills, it made him feel better. The opioids ran out and he turned to heroin. 

His father, John Lally, an APRN, wanted to turn his pain into purpose and make meaning out of his death. He started Today I Matter (TIM), the acronym is Tim’s name. Based in Ellington, CT, Today I Matter is a family non-profit that helps reduce the shame and stigma behind substance abuse and mental illness. Erasing the stigma and changing the conversation allows people to feel good about accepting treatment and getting well. 

As a psychiatric nurse, Lally Sr. is exceptionally qualified to do public speaking on these topics. As a founder of his non-profit, he makes presentations to the Department of Health, nurses associations, and schools. 

With the recent death of a 13-year-old student in Hartford due to a fentanyl overdose, he’s inundated with calls from schools to speak. Over 12 schools have made requests for presentations. 

He also gives trainings in administering Narcam and using QPR (Question Persuade and Refer)—which is a way to intervene when someone is suicidal. A lot of people don’t know what to say on the subject of addiction and mental illness and suicide. QPR teaches people how to reach out. Even if they don’t have the answer, they can show someone suicidal another way. 

Tim Lally was avid about the arts and music. Today I Matter offers scholarships for students studying art and music. 

The organization sponsors a Poster Project of 438 people who died of substance use disorder which is exhibited around New England. 

“It gives a face to the numbers. It’s quite moving,” said Lally.

On April 30, the Poster Project will be displayed on the National Mall in D.C. 

They offer a support group for adults who lost a sibling to substance use disorder. Their yearly fundraiser Out Run Addiction, a 5K road race, which they sponsor with two other groups.

“It’s easy to be judgmental if you think it can’t happen to you or your family and you are not aware of other’s struggles. But it can happen to everyone,” said Lally.

Addiction came on stronger during COVID because of the isolation, lack of structure and no support system for mental illness and addiction. People addicted or who have mental disorders don’t do well with isolation.

Lally has a blog on Today I Matter’s web site where he discusses topics in addiction and mental illness and stigma. There is a place for donations on their site too. 

It’s Just Talk. No Shame in Therapy

Cheslie Kryst

Cheslie Kryst shines the light on mental health in life and in death.

Cheslie Kryst, attorney and 2019 Miss USA winner, 30, jumped to her death in New York City’s Times Square. Her death shines the light again on suicide among the prominent and powerful, as well as on the mental health of communities of color. 

After winning Miss USA, in a now ironic statement to Inside Edition, saying that she took care of her mental health and went to therapy. 

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, there has been a slight uptick in suicides in communities of color in America. However, despite the grim statistics, there have seen more black people, especially black men, go to therapy. 

Kryst worked for a law firm in North Carolina and was passionate on criminal justice reform logging pro bono hours for those sentenced to excessive time for low-level drug offenses. She served on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Dress for Success, as well as being a correspondent for Extra on occasion. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide or grief, it is important to seek help and surround yourself with information about mental health and suicide. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and you can find out about suicide prevention for suicide survivors at It’s no shame to see a therapist. It’s just talk. 

On the Legal Docket: New Lawsuit Aims to Reform Staten Island’s District 75 for Disabled Students

Last January 2021, attorneys from the Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights New York, the Bazelon Center, and the law offices of Jerry Hartman, filed a major class action lawsuit challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island.

Known as District 75, many Staten Island students attend schools outside their communities and commute to school for more than two hours each day. The lawsuit seeks reforms to allow students the necessary resources to ensure students can attend their neighborhood school. 

Research has shown that students with disabilities are more likely to score higher on tests and graduate high school when included with their non-disabled peers. 

The three Plaintiffs in the case alleges that District 75 does not give students equal access to school facilities such as cafeterias, libraries and playgrounds, electives like music and art classes and extra-curricular activities and sports. Black students with disabilities are overrepresented in District 75. 

I spoke with Emily Seelenfreund, of Disability Rights Advocates, and she said that currently the New York City Department of Education has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the plaintiffs have filed opposition. They are waiting for a judge from the federal court of Eastern District of New York to rule on it. 

We reached out by email to the New York Department of Education’s legal team but did not receive comment. 

New Poetry Phone Line Promotes Mental Health and World Healing

In January of 2021, Trapeta Mayson, poet laureate of Philadelphia and a social worker, had an idea. Deep into the COVID pandemic, she wanted to alleviate the mental health crisis brought on by Covid in the city and world. 

She decided to start The Healing Verse, a 24/7 phone line promoting mental health, wellness, and mental well-being. Every Monday a new poem drops on the line. Mayson, a native of Liberia, Philadelphia resident and Temple University graduate, is committed to organizations which mobilize the arts to build community and heal. The project features 50 emerging and professional poets. It is supported by Philadelphia Contemporaryas well as the Academy of American Poets, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Kelly Writers House. 

To listen to the poems, simply call 1-855-763-6792. 

Hartford Connecticut Museum Curates Unique and Universal Exhibit on Mental Health Past and Present

The first thing you see when you walk into the mental health exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford is 18th Century artist Faith Trumbull Huntington who died by suicide. 

“Through looking through letters in our collection, we gleaned that her family had tried to help her,” said Ben Gammell, director of exhibitions at the museum. 

Common Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exhibition about Mental Health Presented by Hartford Healthcare Institute of Living will show now until October 15, 2022. 

Shortly into the exhibit you will learn about the personal stories of military and law enforcement through the use of video interviews. Also included are information about mental health of soldiers during the Civil War. As the cop said in his video, “We are the first ones you call when you need help, but we are not inclined to ask for help for ourselves.” 

Erasing the discrimination that surrounds mental health in our society is what this exhibit hopes to achieve. Through focus groups and reaching out to mental health agencies, the museum found people with lived experience to interview on camera. You will find these stories interspersed throughout the exhibit. 

I reached out to Kathy Flaherty executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, who was part of the initial focus groups and was interviewed on camera for the exhibit. CLRP is a non-profit organization fighting for the legal rights of people with mental illness.

“I was pleased to participate in focus groups while the exhibit was being planned and to film video responses to several thought-provoking questions. The Keep the Promise Coalition posters were in storage at CLRP’s office [Connecticut Legal Rights Project]; I was thrilled we were able to loan them to the museum for display as part of this exhibit, said Flaherty. 

“I hope this exhibit will get more people to think about where we’ve been, and more importantly, where we are going in terms of what “mental health” means in Connecticut. I hope it causes people to think deeply about how we can best support people in emotional distress and the systemic changes we must continue to demand.”

Because of its 120th Anniversary in 2022, there is a lot of information about the Institute of Living’s history formerly the Hartford Retreat for the Insane. The IOL is now a part of Hartford Healthcare in Hartford, Connecticut.

Through use of diverse voices from the past and present, they discuss the impact poverty and racism have on mental health and access to care. For black and indigenous cultures there is extra discrimination the way society looks at someone for having a chemical imbalance in their brain. 

Some of the voices included talked about the lack of insurance coverage and access to treatment without going bankrupt. They included a small section on mental health public policy and legislation. They even brought in voices from the deaf community talking about finding a therapist who used sign language. These was even a section on mindfulness practices in mental health treatment. 

At the end of the exhibit, there were mental health crisis numbers and pamphlets for people to take and share with their friends. 

“This exhibit helps destigmatize mental health and normalize the conversation,” said Gammell. “It talks about how people past and present struggled with mental health. It’s a universal issue throughout the ages.”

The curators dug deep through diaries and letters in the museum’s collection to find this universal truth within the texts of the past.

“It’s not a chronological exhibit. We’ve weaved voices from the past with those from the present to allow you to connect with people from 200 years ago,” said Gammell.

Author and Advocate Julia Tannenbaum, who I have interviewed for this blog, was included in the exhibit as well as her fictional trilogy the Changing Ways series were displayed. 

“I’m beyond flattered to have my young adult book trilogy, The Changing Ways Series, featured in Common Struggle, Individual Experience. My goal with writing my books and sharing my personal story of surviving anorexia was to inspire hope in those who are struggling with mental illness that recovery is possible, and that it gets so much better. Additionally, there needs to be more public awareness of mental illness and support for those who suffer, and I believe CHS’s incredible exhibit will move the needle forward on both. I’m so glad that I can be a part of this much-needed systematic change,” said Tannenbaum. 

A live storytelling event presented by writer and storyteller Matthew Dicks on Zoom was dedicated to Mental Health honoring the exhibit which happened last Saturday and was sponsored by the Connecticut Historical Society. These stories augmented the exhibit by sharing even more personal stories. 

They will also be hosting related programs throughout the year. Our next book talk scheduled is here:

A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic – Connecticut Historical SocietyJoin us for a book talk with Hartford paramedic Peter Canning, author of Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.. In April 2021, Canning released Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.A paramedic on the streets of Hartford for over 25 years, Canning has seen the impact of prescription painkillers …

If you go to the museum’s web site, you can take a virtual tour of the exhibit, find out hours of operation, price of admission, and when live tours are scheduled for this exhibit. The site is