Did Trump Tell the Truth About Mental Health in the Military?

President Trump
Image source: Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump has said many things during his 2016 Presidential campaign. Many of his claims have been outrageously bad, enraging many including yours truly. However, as much as I hope that he does not become the next President of the USA, that strong dislike or fear of his proposed policies and character does not mean that everything he says is wrong.

Yes, that’s right. Even Trump sometimes expresses a truth. If truth is controversial, and thought by many to be a falsehood, would it not be wrong to fail to set the record straight or at least attempt to do so, as one would strive to do with a more likeable person, if one is able to try?

According to The Telegraph, Trump said to a group of military veterans:

“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over.

“And you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it.

“And they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn’t see in a movie — nobody would believe it.”

Those elements in the passage which caused offence were the suggestion that the soldiers who suffer from mental health problems are ‘not “strong”’ and the view that the same group “can’t handle” certain, particularly great difficulties. The assumption among the offended is that Trump was suggesting that some soldiers – those who struggled to deal with war and/or its aftershocks – were weak, and that this was said in a manner that amounted to an immoral statement and possibly a judgement that such men are generally inferior to those that are not mentally ill.

Allow me to cross into the realm of relevant autobiography. I was born with cerebral palsy, a disability which, in my case, affects my left side with a particularly strong impact on my left leg. I am therefore physically weaker than others. These days I am usually, if not always, too weak to do tasks most would consider ordinary or even easy, such as crossing a road and stepping up onto the pavement. I also suffer from a number of mental health problems.

Sometimes this has caused me to not be able to handle life, and to be mentally weak, tiring easier and tolerating less.
I have no problem with calling myself weak in these ways or admitting that I sometimes cannot handle certain situations, because it’s the truth. I do not believe myself to be weak in the sense of being so in every way, or completely lacking in strength and I certainly do not think soldiers who are traumatized by combat are weak in those ways, but in some ways — physically and mentally, and maybe even as a whole or generally — I am not strong and can’t handle many situations. To say otherwise would be delusional in my case.

Surely, then, someone in a worse mental and physical state should be considered weak, not in a way in which those who describe people as such are ridiculing them or passing moral judgement, but because it is the truth of the matter. Yes, Donald Trump could have used wiser wording with greater qualification and clarity, but what he explicitly said was surely true.

To express outrage because some in the military – and not necessarily all who have mental health difficulties, by the way – are portrayed as weak or unable to handle a very difficult situation, one in which hardship is more than understandable, only perpetuates stigma regarding weakness among military personnel and adults in general. Thus, while mental illness and the patient who carries such a burden are not exactly hidden by a whitewash in a manner similar to the way in which the mentally ill family member was in former times secretly left to die in an institution, the extent of the illness or its impact is still being ignored in a way rather than appropriately being discussed.

Without this truth we cannot break down the illusion that hides the horrors of war and costs lives and the sanity of individuals and families. It is as if we cannot call a broken spade a broken spade when it is important to do so, and the results of this silence can be terrible.

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