Parallels in Fandom: ‘In the Flesh’ and PTSD

In the post-apocalyptic world of the small (and recently cancelled) BBC show In the Flesh, zombies have been renamed “Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers.” Through medication they have returned to their original state, memories intact. On paper, they have their old life back; placed back into their family homes, able to live the way they did before rising from the grave. In reality, things aren’t quite that simple. Living citizens are still angry over the deaths PDS sufferers caused in their untreated state. In small towns like Roarton being partially deceased could get you a bullet in the brain. Neighbors are terrified of PDS sufferers’ medication wearing off which would cause them to “go rabid” and return to being dangerous zombies. Most citizens want PDS sufferers out of town and use the derogatory slur “rotters.” PDS sufferers are forced to wear makeup and eye contacts to hide the fact that they aren’t living anymore. Failure to assimilate is downright fatal.

While In the Flesh is not the most popular show, characters like Kieren and Jem have a lot to teach us about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the stigma surrounding it. In just the first three minutes of the first episode, Kieren is shown having vivid, disturbing flashbacks of the people he killed when he was in his untreated state. These flashbacks continue throughout the show. Kieren becomes depressed over his inability to control them as well as the government’s lack of mental health care.

Those who suffer from PTSD often experience flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma they’ve endured. Like Kieren, they can’t let go of the events that happened to them. PTSD sufferers often grapple with suicidal ideation, similar to how Kieren feels during the show. His sister Jem points out that he “can’t kill himself twice.” Feeling guilty for his actions, Kieren grapples similarly to those with PTSD in our world.

Jem is a veteran who fought untreated PDS sufferers in the Human Volunteer Force (HVF) during the zombie outbreak or “the rising” as it’s referred to on the show. As the show continues, we find out that Jem is also suffering from flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme feelings of guilt and anxiety. She shows all the symptoms of PTSD and with no tools to help her transition into civil society again, her anxiety just keeps getting worse. It doesn’t help that one of the people related to her guilt happens to be her brother, a PDS sufferer she couldn’t bring herself to kill during the rising.

Jem Walker (Harriet Cains) Photo courtesy of the BBC

Studies show that 1 out of every 9 women will develop PTSD in their lifetime. 1 out of 6 women in the US will experience sexual assault at some point in their life. The conversation around PTSD is focused on veterans, which means many people don’t realize that rape victims make up a large portion of PTSD survivors. While In the Flesh is more focused on PTSD from combat-related trauma and Jem’s PTSD doesn’t stem from sexual abuse, it’s important to recognize the stigma surrounding sexual assault survivors in conversations about PTSD. You can find out more information here.

One fear that the living have about PDS sufferers is that if their medication wears off they will become violent. The stigma around PTSD is very much the same. Especially with veterans, many people believe that PTSD sufferers are violent and will lash out at any moment. With the April shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, this stigma has only deepened. Suspected of having PTSD, Ivan Lopez injured 16 and killed 3 before killing himself. While Lopez was being evaluated for PTSD, there was never a diagnosis. Despite there being no concrete evidence of Lopez having PTSD, many people believe he did and have therefore attached the diagnosis to violence.

Ivan Lopez, Photo courtesy of Fox News Latino

However, the opposite is true. Studies show that people with PTSD have no more potential to commit violent acts than anyone else. Blogger and PTSD survivor C.J. Grisham writes, “I get extremely nervous in crowded situations and become hypersensitive to my surroundings. Before entering any building, I make a quick survey of all people around me and seek out any and all exits. I sit with my back to a wall so I have a good view of people approaching me. I get startled and anxious at unexpected and loud noises. What I don’t get is violent. What I don’t do is threaten people.”

Clinical Psychologist and Military Researcher, Herrera-Yee says of PTSD that “you’re more likely to see it as someone who is withdrawn, anxious and numb, who’s lost interest in life. Some veterans explain it to me this way: ‘The last thing you want is to go out and lash out.’” Despite this, the stigma of violence remains, much like the stigma surrounding PDS sufferers. Kieran is small and soft-spoken. He spends much of his time inside, avoiding people because he is ashamed of his undead past. He takes his medication daily and is probably the least likely to lash out or go rabid. In fact, when forced to go rabid by being subjected to the pill “Blue Oblivion,” he attempts to tie himself to a grave to keep himself from hurting anyone. He wouldn’t voluntarily hurt anyone.

Similar to Kieren having to hide his condition with makeup and eye contacts, many people with PTSD feel they cannot talk about their disability for fear of judgement. Many feel ashamed for having it in the first place and therefore never get help. PTSD is a serious issue with a terrible stigma surrounding it. Like Kieren, PTSD survivors are very much harmless and deserve our love, support, and respect. 

For more information on PTSD and its treatment, please visit for veteran focussed PTSD and for general information about the disorder.

Cover photo and video courtesy of the BBC.

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