Documentary Explores a Range of New Treatments for PTSD
A conversation with filmmaker Michael Gier about his new release.
Posted February 3, 2021 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
A new documentary, Wounded Heroes, by filmmaker Michael Gier, profiles several innovative treatments for post-traumatic stress. I believe it is a film everyone involved in mental health care should know about. I recently sat down with Gier (via Zoom) and interviewed him to learn more, to help others in the field learn about his work. (Spoiler alert: I was interviewed as part of the film.)
Tell us about your latest film project—Wounded Heroes—and what led you to pursue it?
I had a theatrical feature film project I was working on, and we were interviewing military brass and veterans. One of the veterans I interviewed was named Carl. He was a medic and tried to take his life by suicide because of the tremendous guilt he felt for every life he couldn’t save on the battlefield. I was shocked to find out that he was on 16 different prescription medications, down from 18. He said they weren’t helping, that they were just a Band-aid. I thought there had to be other options out there that would do more to solve the problem of post-traumtic stress (PTS), and that set me on a three-year journey in the hope of finding better options.
You have described this project as a quest that has taken you across the country. What did you learn that was most surprising to you?
When I started this project, I didn’t know anything about PTS. I thought it was something that only our military dealt with, but I soon found out that PTS can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Veterans, firefighters, police officers, and other first responders not only deal with PTS but they also have extremely high suicide rates. Although I launched this project to help veterans, this film and the treatments featured help all our heroes, and anyone battling PTS.
What are the main themes that your film participants spoke to?
It’s surprising how many times I heard that after a 15-minute consultation, they were diagnosed with PTSD and given a handful of prescriptions; some with black box warnings, which are the strictest labeling requirements that the FDA mandates for prescription drugs.
Over and over, I heard the outrage from what they felt was over drugging, that the drugs didn’t help but instead made things worse because of the horrific side effects. Thinking this was all that life had to offer them caused many of them to lose hope and to contemplate suicide. However, every one of the veterans I interviewed found an alternative treatment that changed their life and is now PTS-drug-free with their life back.
What are some of your favorite success stories that you heard during the many interviews?
Antonio Zavala, a veteran I interviewed who was part of the Warfighter Advance program, talks in detail about how the drugs prescribed almost killed him. He couldn’t walk or eat. He was crying in bed and pulling his hair out. He had lost the spark of life, and, feeling dead inside, he became suicidal. He had a goal of someday becoming drug-free and moving his family to Spain. Well today because of Warfighter Advance, a program featured in our film, he is drug-free and lives in Spain with his family, fulfilling that dream.
I also interviewed Myrna Molinari, who talked about one of her patients, a Vietnam veteran a judge forced to see her because of his many DUIs. He told her, “I’m only here because the judge is forcing me. There’s nothing you can do to stop me from drinking. It’s the only thing that helps me and allows me to get a little sleep.” His trauma was watching his friend die right in front of him because he was a few seconds too late. He carried his friend over his shoulder for three days through the jungle because he was NOT going to leave him behind. Molinari told him that he’s been carrying him for over 40 years. After doing just one session with her, this soldier slept through the entire night, the first time in 40-plus years, and told her that she had changed his life.
There are treatments and programs that work and that give anyone battling PTS their life back, and this film is full of such stories.
Can the families of those struggling with PTS benefit from this film?
Absolutely! It’s hard for those struggling to put into words what they’re going through. I had a Veteran tell me that he couldn’t wait for the film to come out so that his family could watch it and understand what he hasn’t been able to explain.
There are many people struggling who may not be in a place where they can watch the film, but their family and friends can watch the film, learn about the different options available, and present those options to their loved one.
What is your hope in bringing this film to the public? Who is it directed to and what do you hope to achieve?
My hope is that this film will help lower the suicide rate among our veterans, first responders, and anyone battling PTS. Wounded Heroes highlights a range of effective treatments and programs. It shows options that are more than just a Band-aid, options that actually give people their lives back and help them get off most, if not all, of their PTS medications.
Unfortunately, many struggling with PTS have given up. They’ve tried several options that looked very promising but which didn’t make a difference in the end. The excitement of potentially finding a solution and then the extreme disappointment of it not helping was devastating. For some, it took many months to be willing to try something else. Some had decided to stop looking for options that may help because they don’t want to experience the extreme disappointment again.
I talked to many who were in that very spot but now have their lives back because of the options featured in the film. I’ll never forget one veteran who said, “This saved my life.”
Can you share any key take-aways from the film?
The film presents many options that are life-changing, but, in addition, it was important to me to clearly explain the next steps. As you know, you were one of the featured experts in the film, and what you shared was incredibly helpful in explaining a path for success. One, healing and growth require commitment over time. However, combining effective approaches can bring relief more efficiently. Two, don’t fight the battle alone. As you put it, “Find a new tribe; people you can take your armor off with and be yourself and talk about what’s really going on inside without fear.” And third, find a new mission.
When will it be released and where can people find out more about the film?
The film will be available for rent and for purchase on Friday March 5th, 2021 on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, and Vimeo on Demand.
For more information, visit the Wounded Heroes film website.