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Mental health experts worried about ‘Boston Strong’ slogan

The slogan “Boston Strong” that emerged days after the Marathon bombings resonates with many — including two-thirds of the more than 500 readers who answered a Boston.com poll. More than 50,000 Boston Strong T-shirts have been sold to raise money for a victims’ charity fund, and the phrase has been plastered on posters and signs throughout the city.

But mental health specialists are concerned that some still traumatized by the Marathon attacks might deem themselves weak or inadequate for not feeling that Boston strength.

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“I think it is probably attempting to speak to a sense of resilience and strength on the level of the community,” said
Dr. Michael Leslie, a psychiatrist who treats trauma patients at McLean Hospital in Belmont. “But there are people who will read this in a personal way, as an exhortation that they themselves need to be strong” no matter what they’re actually feeling. That would be “an unfortunate conclusion to draw from the phrase,” he added.

Nearly 9 percent of poll respondents said they didn’t like the slogan because it makes them feel like they have to be strong.

Symbols, such as yellow ribbons, or slogans often emerge during troubling times to unify people. “These symbols help people feel a sense of connectedness, which can be very good since there’s often a tendency to feel alone and isolated after traumatic events,” said Dr. David Gitlin, chief of medical psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Some have said the “strength” affixed to Boston is particularly fitting. “Boston Strong resonates with us here because it rings true,” said Dr. Paul Summergrad, chair of psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center. “We tend to be resilient, loyal, sometimes pugnacious, and people know not to mess with us.”

Scott Bowman, who has hearing loss from the blast, said he’s been comforted by the sentiment. “It’s more than just Boston strong,” he said. “It’s USA strong. It feels like the whole country is binding together.”

Recognizing PTSD

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually start soon after a traumatic event but may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.

There are four types of symptoms:

1. Reliving the event.

2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.

3. Feeling numb.

4. Feeling jittery or anxious (also called hyperarousal).

SOURCE: National Center for PTSD

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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