It is alarming to me the number of individuals that I have heard of coping with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I am even more alarmed by the Christian Community’s response.
I recently received a text from a pastor friend (whose wife is divorcing him) that was forced to resign from his church and now has limited visitation with his children, following a major anxiety attack because of his PTSD. During the momentary attack, he freaked out and attacked his wife. Please understand this individual is a very Godly man, with a deep love for his wife, children, and God. If I shared his story of military service, and his action throughout several search and rescue operations he participated in within the United States during some high-profile disasters, you would call him a hero; however, the reality is what he saw, felt, heard, and lived through is affecting his thinking, causing him to relive them repeatedly.
I understand that many of my Christian friends are becoming very spiritual at this point, saying, “Pray about it, turn it over to God, and read your Bible.” Sometimes we need to do more than pray. We also need to be accepting that God may answer those prayers through professional help of counselors, pastors, and mentors.
According to the American Psychiatry Association “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD” (www.psychiatry.org
Causes of PTSD
We must understand that this is not limited to the secular community. Christians are coping with PTSD at an alarming rate that we cannot always avoid. Some of these causes (Adapted from the Complete Life Encyclopedia) include, but are not limited to:
1. High percentage of military PTSD related incidents as a result
of war trauma
2. Rise in natural disasters, including living through a tornado, wildfire, hurricane, and other elevated terrorist events.
3. Violence on our streets, such as being shot or witnessing a shooting
4. Rape or other sexual abuse
5. Being involved in or witnessing motor vehicle accidents
- Experience with a traumatic event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, causing a reaction of intense fear or helplessness. (Please keep in mind this can be a literal or perceived injury or threat).
Behaviors and symptoms that could indicate an individual has PTSD:
· Recurrent intrusive memories or dream of the event.
· Acting or feeling as if the trauma were recurring.
· Intense distress when exposed to a stimulus (a person, place, or thing) that prompts memories of the trauma.
· Avoidance of stimuli (people, place, or thing) that trigger traumatic memories.
· Period of disassociation or inability to remember parts of the trauma.
· Persistent symptoms of increase autonomic arousal (e.g. difficulty sleeping, irritability, angry, outburst, difficulty concentration, hyper vigilance, or exaggerated startle response.
· Individual becoming severely depressed and feeling completely hopeless about the future.
· Abusing alcohol or other drugs or greatly increasing tobacco use.
· Being unable to accomplish the tasks required for daily living or to hold a job.
· Harboring persistent suicidal thoughts
When I was in Bible College, we awoke to a young man jumping on the hood of a truck in the parking lot, kicking out the front widow. He was screaming “we got to get him out.” He was later that week diagnosed with PTSD. He was flashing back to the event 10 years earlier when he was trying to get his best friend out of the burning truck and was unable to help his friend who died in the fire. He woke up on campus at that time and looked out the window and saw a truck that looked just like that truck his friend was in. That appearance of the truck caused his flash backs. This symptom of PTSD caused him to relive the event. This reliving experience caused him to see the flames and ran to help.
I remember a young man I worked with several years ago in a youth group that would become very tense, shy, and fearful whenever a certain man would walk in the room. When talking about with the young man, he shared that he witnessed the man beating his son when he was at the home for a sleepover, and he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
I have counseled several individuals that have shared they feel suicide is the only solution to stop the pain, anxiety, depression, and stress they feel.
All the these listed above are simply only the beginning of what can trigger PTSD, and how people respond because it is unique to everyone.
What can I do if I’m faced with PTSD in my own life with or someone I know?
· First you or the other individual must Acknowledge that there is problem, and something is not right, and no one can handle it alone!
· Seek help from a professional that has an understanding and is educated about PTSD
Please understand my personal view when an individual has a diagnosis like PTSD, I will always come along aside them and will refer to professional with training and experience in PTSD counseling.
· Talk with a pastor or a mature Christian friend and walkout this journey of safe and appropriate behavior.
· Spend time in scripture.
o I recommend focusing on Psalm 121, Psalm 23, and Philippians 4: 4 – 9.
o When struggling with the pressure of PTSD, remember God is always right beside you even in the deepest fear, anxiety, and stress.
· If placed on medications by your doctor, continue to take the medication until he/she stop prescribing it. Never attempt to stop medication without your doctor’s assistance and approval, and never encourage someone to discontinue mediation on their own.
How can I effectively help someone dealing with PTSD, as a non-professional?
Listen (acknowledge their story, their feeling, and beliefs about the event).
Have compassion for them.
Pray with them.
Share Biblical references with them.
I found the following quote by Thomas à Kempis in his amazing book The Imitation of Christ very appropriate if we are going to help our friends and family dealing with PTSD, “Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity — adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.”