Mental health experts dispute linking PTSD to violence after Fort Hood shooting
Psychologist consulting a pensive man during a therapy session (Shutterstock)

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mental health experts raised concerns on Thursday that the deadly shootings at Fort Hood in Texas would unfairly label post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers as violent, saying there is no data to back up that link.

The U.S. soldier suspected of killing three people before committing suicide at the military base on Wednesday was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and was being treated for depression and anxiety, the military said.

As investigators tried to piece together a motive for the rampage, which left 16 others wounded, mental health experts and veterans groups dismissed PTSD as a possible trigger for the violent episode.

"There's a misconception with PTSD that a symptom is anger and violence," said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio-based psychiatrist and author of the PTSD help book I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall.

"The stigma associated with PTSD is tragically worsened with events like this," Croft said.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a life-threatening event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety, social avoidance, being easily startled or having trouble sleeping or concentrating, Croft said.

About 20 percent of military personnel returning from conflict zones, including some who were never directly involved in combat, suffer from the condition, he said.

Mental health providers have often faced an uphill battle treating the disorder and the misconceptions surrounding it.

"I am unaware of data showing that people with PTSD are more violent than other people," said Richard J. McNally, Ph.D, the director of clinical training in the psychology department at Harvard University.

Veterans groups and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in recent years have made a concerted effort to educate military service members about PTSD, and to dispel the myths surrounding the condition.

"I'm sure it was pretty offensive to these veterans' interest groups to see this link between a mass shooting and a possible PTSD diagnosis," said Martin Williams, a California-based psychologist.

"People with PTSD are not violent. They suffer. They themselves suffer," he said.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson)

[Image: "Psychologist Consulting Pensive Man During Psychological Therapy Session," via Shutterstock]