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PTSD and the Church

May 22, 2013

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has become the signature wound of modern warfare, but it is nothing new. In previous wars, it was frequently called Shell Shock or Battle Fatigue. Today, more than ever is understood about this disorder. Yet, just like many mental health afflictions, much is yet to be learned about this. For example, the researchers cannot determine why some people are affected and others are not. While PTSD is common among service members who have served in combat, it can also occur to civilians who are exposed to traumatic events. Severe automobile accidents, shootings and acts of terrorism in America can bring this disorder to the civilian population.

Many believe individuals who have PTSD are innately violent and can turn savage at any moment. That is not true. Many individuals who suffer from PTSD are meek and mild servants of society. They work hard and are upstanding citizens. They carry the burden of their suffering in the depths of their heart, showing the pain only in private.

What does the church member need to know about PTSD? Those who suffer from PTSD are not contagious. They are in need of love and care from their church, just as anyone else who is suffering needs it. Veterans tend to gravitate towards other veterans. They are able to bond over common experiences. Do not be shocked or upset when they say “You cannot understand.” Unless you have experienced combat, please don’t try to say you understand. That will close the conversation.

Volumes upon volumes have been written about this affliction. To go on ad nauseam here would not help anyone. The Veterans Administration (VA) has a user-friendly site addressing this affliction. It can be found at http://www.ptsd.va.gov/. They have options to view the site as a medical professional or as a member of the general public. For mental health professionals, the National Institute of Mental Health has excellent information for you at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml.

As a pastor or a church staff member, take some time and look at the VA website. Learn what PTSD looks like, learn the symptoms. In this era, being aware and prepared will help you best care for the veterans in your church.

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5 Comments
  1. Thanks for this article. Very informative

    • Thank you for your feedback. I think you may find other articles in my “Christian Voice on War” folder, especially the piece on Moral Injury.

  2. Great article! I remember in my psych class in college we had a guy who I was nice to but distant with because of his almost purposeful sense of self and quiet behavior. It was a little bit scary how distant he was. When people started to bug him about personal stuff, even friends, he snapped hard at them and they left him alone, even the girls. Everything started to make sense when he presented his final project and it was all about PTSD and how he had dealt with it as well after coming back from Iraq (he was probably about 26). Since then my compassion level for people with PTSD has grown, but it still saddens me to see how many people in the church world say that “they must not be right with God for that to happen.” It has nothing to do with God, if I can say that, but more to do with the brain and processing of events that we may not have ever been created to be subjected to. I love that you addressed this hard subject…and so masterfully as well!

    • Charity, thank you for your reply. PTSD is a unique beast. There are so many variables with this affliction. I also know people who think it is a spiritual ailment alone. They rule out any chance it may be a psychological or physiological issue. This is troublesome. Individuals that suffer from this are in agony in one way or another. Sleep depravation, nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-alertness are daily issues. For me, we have to care for them because “we the people” sent them off to war.

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