New Ken Burns Documentary Poses Risk to Those with PTSD, Depression

Sometimes, a film is just too effective.

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                                          And sometimes…not.

In the case of Ken Burns’ new documentary about the Vietnam War, mental health professionals are warning that the film may actually be too effective at what it does. In other words, viewing the film may seriously trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression for veterans who struggle with these issues (and even for those who aren’t yet aware they do). In fact, US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is bracing for an increase of treatment requests in the wake of the film’s airing.

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Filmmaker Ken Burns has made a name for himself with his epic, beautifully produced documentaries about subjects such as the American Civil War, the sport of baseball, U.S. National Parks, and the origins and impact of jazz music. Burns’ latest project saw him pair up with filmmaker Lynn Novice to take an intense look at the Vietnam War.

The resulting film–a 10-part documentary which will air on PBS stations across America for the next two weeks–is already being hailed as incredibly moving…but it might be a little too moving for those who lived through it, namely veterans who struggle every day with depression and PTSD. Mental health professionals at the VA are preparing for an influx of need from veterans following the film’s debut.

“I would say that majority of the veterans I work with – they try – when their symptoms are high, they’re actively avoiding any media,” says VA staff psychologist Tina Mayes in an interview with NPR.

 

The VA has seen this sort of situation before; they’ve made high-profile offerings of help surrounding the release of other war-themed films such as Saving Private Ryan. One particular issue among veterans is that they might been “obligated” to watch the documentary, and if that is the case, experts suggest that they at least not watch the film alone. The effects of PTSD have life-long impact, especially for veterans of the Vietnam War, who were met with hostility and indifference upon returning to the U.S., a homecoming that experts say further exacerbated the typical damage of PTSD.

Burns’ Vietnam documentary has already begun to air on PBS stations across the U.S., and select episodes are now available online.

The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Or you can chat online at any time.

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