PTSD is not a punchline in a joke

During episode 8 of “I’m a celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, hosts Ant and Dec exclaimed that they had PTSD and were getting flashbacks when they heard their song ‘Let’s get Ready To Rumble’ being played.

In response to this, Jaquie Suttie, the founder of PTSD UK, wrote an open letter to ITV to warn them against using PTSD as a punchline in jokes.

The issue with such a ‘joke’ is that is adds to the already commonly used gag about minor things causing people PTSD that is used day in day out leading to the overarching problem of how PTSD is represented. ‘Jokes’ like these are more powerful than people realise; every time that punchline is used it desensitises people more and invalidates people’s experiences further. People often then don’t realise the harsh reality of the condition as they have been conditioned, however subconsciously, to believe that it is just a minor issue and not something that people really suffer from.

Yet alarmingly 20% of people that experience a traumatic event develop PTSD; that’s 6,665,000 people! And still the condition is still misunderstood and heavily stigmatised. So what is PTSD really?

PTSD is a condition that can arise after a person experiences a traumatic or life-threatening experience. It transforms people’s lives into a place where everything seems unpredictable and out of control which is often accompanied by the feeling of constant anxiety and hypervigilance. Symptoms of PTSD can be categorised into 4 types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Everyone with the condition will have a different experience but essentially symptoms tend to add up so that they cause significant problems with work, relationships and normal day to day tasks.

The symptoms of PTSD include (but are not exclusive to):

  • Reexperiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts
  • Avoidance behaviours. These can include avoiding people, places, and certain situations.
  • Negative feelings and thoughts
  • Memory problems
  • Hypervigilance – constantly being alert and on edge
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reaction to something that reminds you of the experience.
  • Feelings of emotional numbness which can lead to difficulties with being able to understand and communicate how they feel.
  • Trouble sleeping and concentrating
  • Self-destructive behaviours such as driving too fast

The intensity of symptoms varies between people and over time with people potentially having more symptoms when they are feeling more stressed in general or when they come across triggers.

Given the seriousness of the condition, the amount that it can affect people’s lives and the isolation that it causes, making PTSD the punchline of a joke can have a significant impact on those battling it day in day out.

PTSD UK’s letter aim to address the fact that comments like the ones made in the TV show ‘further stigmatise the reality of the condition’. It pointed out that the ‘joke’ added to ‘a long line of examples where people use PTSD in a really disrespectful way’ and that as figure heads of Get Talking Britain, Ant and Dec should be more mindful when making comments about mental health. A further point was made about the need for ITV to take more responsibility for providing content that isn’t offensive or upsetting for viewers. Essentially, it’s not about being boring and not being able to take a joke, it’s about people making endless jokes about a condition that effects millions of people’s lives which ultimately leads to the invalidation of people’s experiences and the further stigmatisation of an already heavily stigmatized condition. This letter raises the fundamental issue in how people regard mental health and PTSD in general and highlights the integral need to raise more awareness of such conditions.

Useful resources:

Mind – 


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