What is PTSD?

"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?"

~Proverbs 18:14

The American Psychiatric Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD as "as an anxiety (emotional) disorder which stems from a particular incident evoking significant stress."[1]

PTSD is found in survivors of combat, combat training accidents, the Holocaust, automobile accidents, sexual assaults, and other traumatic experiences.

Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people have stress reactions that don't go away on their own or even get worse with time. These individuals may suffer from PTSD.[2]

PTSD is a contemporary name for an ancient disease. Whenever wars or traumatic events have occurred, they have always had a psychological impact on people. PTSD may affect a person within a few months or appear many years later.[3]

History records many instances of PTSD. A man named Hori, a combat veteran from three thousand years ago, wrote in graphic detail about his feelings at the moment when his combat was about to begin: "You determine to go forward. . . . Shuddering seizes you, the hair on your head stands on end, your soul lies in your hand."[4] Memories like these are real and in many cases are the cause of PTSD.

Throughout history there have been examples of warriors facing tremendous fear in the face of eminent battle. During World War II, Private First Class Albert Blithe of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division was stricken with a temporary case of hysterical blindness following days of fierce fighting to capture a stronghold in Normandy as his unit was on the way to reclaim Paris. Private Blithe recovered from the blindness and other wounds sustained in battles.[5] He drank every day of his life.[6]

For those of you who have faced the unimaginable in standing strong and answering the call of your nation, my hope is that you will find in our Lord's word how to be whole and fulfill the Lord's will for your life.

The renowned psychiatrist Victor Frankel survived being imprisoned in four different Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In his book Man's Search for Meaning, he describes PTSD when he says that "an abnormal response to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."[7] In other words, these horrendous events will take a toll on those who endure them. In a way, these situations are part of who we are, and we cannot change them. However, we can change their effects on us.

Though I do believe Dr. Frankel is right about all our experiences being part of who we are, I know our Lord can change how we deal with the horrendous events of the past and replace them with His grace.

PTSD is identified by clear physical and psychological symptoms. [8]

· suicidal tendencies
· fear, depression, sleeplessness, and anxiety
· guilt and survivor's guilt
· anger and irritability
· nightmares and flashbacks
· avoidance of conflict
· apathy[9]

It's my experience that this disorder is often associated with difficulties in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems, family discord, and difficulties in parenting. My research has identified more than two hundred symptoms and adverse effects. Obviously, people suffering from PTSD need help.

Many people suffering with PTSD are receiving medical treatment. This book is not meant as a replacement for that medical treatment but rather as a supplement to work in conjunction with your doctors to provide spiritual care. Though I am convinced in most cases PTSD sufferers will find great help in God's Word, you should continue to receive medical care until released by your medical professional.

The following precepts have guided me in the writing of this book.

First, I am certain that PTSD is real and can lead ordinary people to make rash decisions and to act inappropriately. I have known wonderful, seemingly stable people who have attempted suicide. When they are asked why, the usual answer is something like "I can't sleep" or "The battle revisits me." Another answer I heard just the other day was "They are conspiring against me," meaning that this person thought his family and friends were working behind his back to hurt him in some way when really the opposite was true. PTSD can make right seem wrong and turn lives upside down. Many have told me they fear an intervention more than a root canal or major surgery.

Many suffer from PTSD. Statistics provided by the Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs are staggering:[10]

· Some 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

· Women are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD.

· About 3.7% of US adults suffer from PTSD at any given time.

· Around 30% of the men and women who have spent time in a war zone suffer from PTSD.

· More than half of all Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD.

Next, PTSD can show up at any time. Some experts say the symptoms may first appear the day after the traumatic experiences or many years later. A trigger, sometimes something as simple as a small noise, a wounded warriors television commercial, or a scream, can set off a chain of memories or cause pain. Many patients experience no symptoms for years- until the trigger activates them.

Obviously, we need to act and treat the afflicted as soon as we can. But it would be even better to prepare people prior to their facing traumatic experiences.

PTSD affects people of every class and status in life. Vietnam veterans, however, seem to be particularly susceptible. A medical study identified the following risk factors for the development of PTSD in a sample of Vietnam veterans that included 68 women and 414 men, of whom 88 were white, 63 black, 80 Hispanic, 90 native Hawaiian, and 93 Japanese American.[11] Pre-military factors included Hispanics coming from an unstable family, being punished severely during childhood, childhood asocial behavior, and suffering from depression. The military factors were war-zone exposure and depression. Finally, recent stressful life events, post-Vietnam trauma, and depression were identified as post-military factors.

The researchers also identified certain pre-military protective factors, such as Japanese-American ethnicity, high school diploma or college education, older age at entry to war, higher socioeconomic status, and a more positive paternal relationship. Post-military protective factors included social support at homecoming and current social support.[12] Other research also indicates the protective effects of social support in averting PTSD or facilitating recovery if it develops.[13]

Another study by doctors found early intervention to be a critical preventive measure. Albert Glass and Franklin Jones concluded:

PTSD symptoms can follow any serious psychological trauma, such as exposure to combat, accidents, torture, disasters, criminal assault and exposure to atrocities or to the sequelae of such extraordinary events. Prisoners of war exposed to harsh treatment are particularly prone to develop PTSD. In their acute presentation these symptoms . . . include subsets of a large variety of affective, cognitive, perceptional, emotional and behavioral responses which are relatively normal responses to gross psychological trauma. If persistent, however, they develop a life of their own and may be maintained by inadvertent reinforcement. Early intervention and later avoidance of positive reinforcement (which may be subtle) for such symptoms is a critical preventive measure.[14]

Studies have shown that those prepared for the potential of a traumatic experience are more prepared to deal with the stress of a traumatic experience and therefore less likely to develop PTSD.[15]

PTSD is a disorder that is treatable and, with the Lord's help, curable. I am certain that people who develop PTSD can recover from it and live a normal happy life. Furthermore, there is an excellent chance that it can be prevented altogether when treated prior to onset. It is a good idea for all people who have had traumatic experiences to study this book and join a local PTSD Bible support group for help. In the introduction of this book, there is information about how to find a therapy group.

[1] Steve Bentley, "A Short History of PTSD,"VVA Veteran, March/April 2005, http://www.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2005_03/feature_HistoryPTSD.htm (accessed January 31, 2014).

[2] "Understanding and Coping with PTSD," Veterans Healthcare Administration, National Center for PTSD, January 2011, http://www.nami.org (accessed January 31, 2014).

[3] "PTSD: A Growing Epidemic," NIH MedlinePlus, Winter 2009, http://www.nlm.nih.gov (accessed January 31, 2014).

[4] Steve Bentley, "A Short History of PTSD,"VVA Veteran, March/April 2005, http://www.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2005_03/feature_HistoryPTSD.htm (accessed January 31, 2014).

[5] "Albert Blithe," http://en.wikipedia.org (accessed January 31, 2014).

[6] Marcus Brotherton, A Company of Heroes (New York: Berkeley Caliber, 2010, Part 1, Chapter 1, http://books.google.com.

[7] Viktor E Frankel, Man's Search for Meaning (New York: Touchstone, 1984), 32.

[8]David L. Conroy, "Why Is It So Hard for Us to Recover from Being Suicidal?" http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/ptsd.htm (accessed January 31, 2014); Melinda Smith, Robert Segal, and Jeanne Segal, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help," American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, http://www.aaets.org/article194.htm (accessed January 31, 2014).

[9] Lloyd Sederer, "The Enemy Is Apathy," Psychiatric Times, July 26, 2012, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blogs (accessed January 31, 2014).

[10] "What Is PTSD?" Nebraska Department of Veterans' Affairs, http://www.ptsd.ne.gov (accessed January 31, 2014).

[11] P. Schnurr, C. Lunney, and A. Sengupta. "Risk Factors for the Development Versus Maintenance of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder," Journal of Trauma Stress 17, no. 2 (2004): 85-95.

[12] Jennifer L. Price, "Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Study," factsheet from the National Center for PTSD, United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

[13] C. Brewin, B. Andrews, and J. Valentine. "Meta-Analysis of Risk Factors for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Trauma-Exposed Adults," Journal of Consulting and Clinic Psychology 68 (October 2000): 748-66; E. Ozer, S. Best, T. Lipsey, and D. Weiss. "Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Symptoms in Adults: A Meta-Analysis," Psychological Bullletin 129 (January 2003): 52-73.

[14] Albert Julius Glass and Franklin D. Jones, Psychiatry in the U.S. Army: Lessons for Community (Bethesda, MD: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine, 2005), 26.

[15] Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000).


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