This Haunting Ad Shows How Fitness Can Ease PTSD Symptoms

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a new campaign video for the fitness app Freeletics shows how people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can use movement to help ease symptoms.

The video is the latest installment in the brand’s “This Is My Journey” series, and was produced by Havas Germany. Each “journey” focuses on a different Freeletics user, their background, and their relationship to sports and fitness.

The latest journey video, exclusive to Adweek, tells the story of Marine Corps veteran Corey Lohr. Living with PTSD after combat injuries, Lohr talks about how his workouts take him out of his dark patterns of depression and help keep him focused—and how that can help him be more present with his family.

Lohr’s video—shot by Havas Germany in-house director Marcelo Alves—employs cinematography and edits that visualize Lohr’s experience to bring the viewer inside his head.

“When I was diagnosed with PTSD, I really did not understand what it was,” said Lohr.

After unsuccessful attempts with medication, Lohr worked with psychologists and did some research, he said, that led him to believe movement could help.

“I found out the brain releases a chemical when we move,” said Lohr, “meaning exercise gives us this release of endorphins, which is a positive feeling. Some will say it is euphoric.”

PTSD impacts 11%-30% of veterans and is even more common in women regardless of veteran status, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Photo: Lucho Vidales for Havas Germany

Alves shot the campaign in Lohr’s hometown of Meadville, Pa., with a lean crew and a combination of digital and Super 8 cameras that lend a dreamy, grainy quality to the work. Cinematography was helmed by Sebastian Vellrath, and the project was led by creative director Guillaume D. Champeau. A soundtrack by Luke Hester adds to the moodiness of the video.

By integrating experimental storytelling techniques, Alves was able to help illustrate the complex experience of PTSD. And he did it with the military veteran’s help.

“Corey shared his triggers that can take him directly to traumatic situations,” said Alves. “They can be either smells, colors and sounds. So because of that, I tried to imagine a clear relation between something harmless and beautiful that out of a blue, triggers a feeling that takes you back to your darkest memories.”

In the video, roses are transported to a beach where they burst into flames.
Still: Havas Germany for Freeletics

At one point in the video, Lohr stares blankly into a vase full of red roses, seemingly becoming lost in the sight. As Lohr appears to dissociate into the deep red color, gunshots are heard—and suddenly, the roses are transported to a sandy beach where they burst into flames.

“The fire is something that once it burns something, it changes that subject or matter forever,” Alves said. “It is an interesting relation to Corey’s mind after the combats he’s been to.”

PTSD impacts anywhere from 11%-30% of veterans depending on the war they served in, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But PTSD is even more common in women regardless of veteran status, the VA says, due to the high prevalence of trauma stemming from rape and sexual assault, domestic violence and childhood abuse. According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, roughly half of all women experience trauma within their lifetime, and many develop PTSD as a result to varying degrees.

PTSD symptoms are often induced by “triggers,” either subtle or overt reminders of a traumatic event that, according to the VA, can lead to a state of hypervigilance, obsessive thoughts, nightmares and even suicidal feelings.

The latest journey video tells the story of Marine Corps veteran Corey Lohr, living with PTSD after combat injuries.
Still: Havas Germany for Freeletics

Depression stemming from PTSD can be especially strong during the Covid-19 quarantine, said Lohr, making it even more vital that people exercise to manage their symptoms and to avoid feeling stuck in negative patterns.

“The thoughts that stay with a person that suffers from PTSD during this time become heightened,” Lohr said. “When the person feels their emotions rising and themselves falling into depression, they have to move their body.”

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