Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Updated 19 August 2004

by the Rev'd Ed Swayze

I was introduced to information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the Military Chaplain's course. The awareness of PTSD is growing because of the experience of Canadian peacekeepers getting sick. Soldiers who experience traumatic events on the battlefield can develop PTSD. It has been referred to as shell shock. In a 1993 study of Canadian peace keeping veterans, 16% had PTSD symptoms.

I have encountered civilians who have developed PTSD symptoms. It would do well for clergy and parishes to become more knowledgeable of this disorder as there are likely people in each parish who have it.

The primary criterion for diagnosing this disorder are that a person experienced a traumatic event, and felt fear, horror or helplessness in the face of the event. The traumatic event can be witnessing someone being killed or severely injured, being sexually assaulted or severely injured, being threatened with death yourself, or having your child killed or traumatized.

Other diagnostic criteria include re-experiencing the event through recollections or dreams; avoiding stimuli associated with the trauma (if you were raped in an elevator, avoiding elevators); increased arousal (including poor sleeping, difficulty concentrating, startle easily); duration of symptoms is more that one month; and these symptoms are severe enough to make it difficult to live a normal life. The symptoms develop six months or more after the traumatic event.

Clergy are not trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders. It is best to contact a psychologist or a psychiatrist if you think you might need some help because one of the difficulties associated with PTSD is that other disorders can also be present.

The literature indicates that good social support systems are important for the treatment of PTSD. The church can be helpful in that a parish community and the clergy can be supportive. A good support system is a person's faith in Jesus.

Over the last twenty years a process called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) has been developed to talk a group of people through a traumatic event. It helps them get back to normal sooner. While the studies are not conclusive, there is some indication that it will reduce the incidence of PTSD. Many communities have CISD teams, which are associated with Emergency Services.

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