Jason Kander’s decision to drop out of the Kansas City mayoral race is bringing more attention to post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues faced by veterans.
Kander is an Army veteran who served a four-month tour in Afghanistan 11 years ago. He said in a statement that his time in the military continues to affect him and has led to battles with depression and symptoms of PTSD.
“So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me,” Kander wrote. “That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11 to 20 percent of those who, like Kander, served in Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.
Dan Trout, who works at the Research Psychiatric Center, said it is important to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. He adds that Kander’s honesty lets people know that it is okay to have PTSD and seek out treatment for mental health.
“Many people are suffering in silence to feel like they can’t reach out, especially our veterans,” he said.
Many people see soldiers as brave and strong, but military veteran Daniel Brazzell said these stereotypes can preclude a veteran from seeking mental health treatment.
“We are the heroes,” he said. “We get out there, we’re going to make sure everybody else is taken care of. So for us to need help, can be seen as a sign of weakness.”
Kander wrote in his statement that he thought running for Kansas City Mayor and focusing on public service would solve his mental health issues. However, Trout notes, this kind of coping mechanism still does not address the problem.
“If you pour yourself into activities and work and those things, it’s kind of like you’re trying to outrun the trauma,” he said.
Kander’s statement further discusses how the former Missouri Secretary of State often doubted the presence of PTSD because he “didn’t earn it.” Kander served a four-month tour 11 years ago in Afghanistan, and, according to a 2016 interview with the Kansas City Star, had not come under fire. But during an appearance on KCUR’s Up to Date in June, Kander discussed a “high-stakes meeting” with an Afghan general.
Trout said that while Kander had not actually been in combat, the high-stress and dangerous environment of war can still cause trauma.
“If you’re in a high-risk environment such as Jason was, where the threat of danger to yourself and life is constant, you hear about things that have happened to maybe a buddy of yours or somebody close to you or just in that theater of war,” he said. “It’s going to … have a mental impact on you.”
If you are a veteran dealing with mental health issues, you can call the Veterans Affairs Crisis Line at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @celisa_mia.