4 Eye-Opening Facts We Learned From This Moving Documentary on Latinos Living With PTSD

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Billed as “three powerful stories of trauma, survival and recovery” Buried Above Ground is a gripping look at the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ben Selkow’s film follows Luis Carlos Montalván, an Iraq War veteran; Ashley Boudreaux, an evacuee from Hurricane Katrina; and Erundina Lopez, a survivor of domestic abuse.

The impetus behind following these three very different people is to move away from thinking that PTSD only affects war veterans. That is, after all, the narrative we’re all most familiar with. Think about American Sniper, The Hurt Locker or Stop-Loss, all recent films that have highlighted the way the experience of modern warfare has a dark afterlife for those who return. In giving audiences a look at Luis’ story alongside that of Erundina and Ashley (who even states outright that she’d want a psychiatrist who’d gone to war, only they could understand what she lives with), Buried Above Ground expands our own notions of PTSD.

Grounded in these personal stories, Buried Above Ground has a lot to teach us about what it means to live with PTSD and how it affects people’s lives in ways both big and small. Here are four eye-opening facts we learned from catching Selkow’s film, which had its television broadcast premiere as part of America ReFramed.

Buried Above Ground is available to stream online for free here.


450 Million People Around The World Will Develop PTSD At Some Point In Their Lifetime

For those wanting to do the math: that’s 8% of the population worldwide. As Buried Above Ground shows, while we may be most familiar with PTSD affecting veterans like Luis, this affliction is not restricted to those confronted with war scenarios. Erundina, a Bronx-born Puerto Rican woman living in Florida, for example, show us how domestic violence (at the hands of her father and later her husbands) continues to cripple her day to day.


PTSD Is Something You Live With Every Day

“What if the worst thing that happened to you kept happening to you?” That’s how Luis describes his experience; it’s not just having lived through a traumatic but having it haunt you daily. This is most heartbreakingly represented in the film with Erundina’s story. The film, which was shot over 6 years, shows her ups and downs as she tries to get her life back in order after her domestic violence past drove her to drink, and later even towards suicidal attempts. Even at times when the film shows her most in control—driving to court after getting a jury summons—she cannot escape the panic attacks that rise up whenever she has to grapple with triggers: it was at that same court where she’d had to face her DUI charges years earlier.


You Can’t Cope With PTSD Alone

Showcasing the work of social workers, group therapy, VA groups, and family members, Buried Above Ground stresses the importance of strong support groups in people’s road to recovery. Luis, for example, understandably worries what will happen when his therapist decides to move out of New York while Ashley, knowing how crucial a support network can be, has fostered such a feeling of community as the manager at the warehouse-turned-art-space Art Egg Studios in New Orleans.


The “Service Dogs for Veterans Act” Is Making A Difference

As the film shows, Luis was instrumental in getting Al Franken to push for the Service Dogs for Veterans Act which the Senate passed on July 23, 2009, and was subsequently signed into law by the President. Alongside Tuesday (his service training dog), Luis has become the voice of the palliative power of having a service dog to help veterans dealing not only with physical disabilities but also mental health disorders. It’s at the heart of Montalván’s memoir, Until Tuesday, which became a New York Times bestseller. They even appeared together on the Late Show with David Letterman!