By: Anna King
Memorial Day, Women’s Veterans Day, and PTSD Awareness Month are among the observances and causes many of us support during May and June. You, your friends or loved ones may have served in the military at some point. My own partner was a firefighter in the Navy and traveled the world on peacekeeping missions after the first Gulf War. His experiences center around the discipline of military life and relationships built with other military personnel who became dear friends.
Many veterans aren’t as lucky as he was, and instead encounter violence, witness tragedy, and experience trauma that often creates lasting impact. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) significantly affects one’s well-being and is caused by witnessing or experiencing life threatening events, violence in any form, natural disasters, abuse, and car accidents, to name a few causes. According to the National Center for PTSD housed in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, seven to eight percent of the entire population (veterans and non-veterans) will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about eight million people develop PTSD each year. Ten percent of women will develop PTSD as compared to four percent of men.
People deal with trauma and PTSD in a variety of ways. About 50 percent of individuals seek help. Others make life or career choices to minimize stress and to reduce ongoing exposure to trauma. One of my partner’s colleagues was a firefighter after serving in the military. He struggled with PTSD and the continued difficulty of witnessing injuries and deaths. As a result, he ended up choosing a new career so he could be healthier mentally for himself, his spouse, and his children.
For others, the path is less positive. Some turn to alcohol or drugs and develop substance use disorders. Others compartmentalize their trauma and become disconnected from their emotions, friends, and family. Still others fall into despair. The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times the rate of adult non-veterans, taking into account adjustments made for age, sex, and other factors. Fortunately, there is good news.
We live in a time when new methods of treating trauma and PTSD are growing. Further, trauma-informed care is an approach and a set of frameworks and principles that seek to ensure individuals with trauma histories receive the support and care they need.
Trauma-informed care happens at a systems level by
- treating individuals as unique human beings who are more than the labels used to characterize them (e.g., addict, mentally ill),
- protecting privacy whether physically or emotionally,
- giving choices in service and treatment, and
- asking for feedback on service delivery.
If you are a leader, facilitator, coach or simply care about someone with PTSD or a trauma background, consider interacting with others using the following trauma-informed guidelines.
Trust – Nurture and ensure psychological safety. Keep commitments, protect confidences, and ensure other group members do the same
Respect – Use kind words and give choices to the individual or group
Avoid – Stay away from making assumptions about the person or group and avoid labeling
Understand – Listen deeply and validate so individuals feel seen and heard
Make time – Teach how or do things with the individual or group, rather than doing things for them
Ask – Uncover the individual’s concerns, needs, wants, and preferences
For more information, please see the following resources: