Mike Rials
Op-Ed

Story, image draws criticism from subject of brain health piece

I agreed to share my personal story with The Mercury to raise awareness of research and program offerings for military service members at the Center for BrainHealth. However, when the piece was published, I was disheartened to see my photograph stamped with the labels of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Quite simply, the story that accompanied the piece validated the same unfortunate narrative that continues to plague the military community: that every service member has PTSD and/or TBI and that those labels stay with you for life.

I have learned a great deal working with veterans over the last five years and am determined to change the conversation that currently surrounds the military community, PTSD and TBI.

This false narrative leaves employers doubtful about hiring service members, families’ worried sick and veterans finding it difficult to create meaningful relationships. Furthermore, the stigma only reinforces a culture where individuals who exit the military are more reluctant to seek help.

I want veterans across the nation—and specifically on UTD’s campus—to know that even with a diagnosis of PTSD or TBI, that label does not define you.

Any brain-related issue—whether PTSD, TBI, depression or other mental health conditions—carries a stigma that is perpetuated out of fear and lack of understanding.

I have learned that PTSD and TBI are not signs of mental weakness, do not last a lifetime, are treatable and can be overcome.

There is effective research being done on the brain and there are proven interventions that should be foregrounded by the media and the public at large to enhance our appreciation for the complex organ between our ears.

PTSD and TBI are not isolated to the military community and dissemination of accurate information is key, especially among veterans. I wish The Mercury article had focused on our ability to change our brains physiologically and psychologically despite such a diagnosis.

Even though I have been through obstacles in my life just like everyone else, I have a desire for improvement. I am a living example that with motivation, education and science-based tools, one can lead a more fulfilling life. The more hopeful and empowering messages we share collectively, the more successful we will be in shattering the stigma, labeling and enabling of veterans and others concerned with their brain health.

To my fellow warriors: We have to maintain our fighting spirit. We are fortunate to have learned the importance of grit, leadership, resourcefulness, strategic thinking, perspective, mission orientation, teamwork, loyalty and work ethic from our rich service oriented experience. It is our responsibility to translate what we have been trained to do in the military for our next mission and purpose in life. Take that first step and reach out if you feel like you are struggling. There is a wealth of resources available to you.

Please join me in defying the perpetuation of misinformation. Leverage the opportunities and resources before you; train your brain like you do your body and revel in your new purpose. Let our successes and the achievements of our brothers and sisters in arms be the defining face of what it means to be a veteran.

As a former Marine and UTD student veteran, I appreciate The Mercury’s interest and attention to highlighting service members. I have been fortunate to personally experience the vast support the University offers for its student veterans, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities I have been provided by both UTD and its Center for Brain Health.

Mike Rials is a former sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, UT Dallas graduate and member of the Center for Brain Health’s warrior training team.