Sunday, March 10, 2013

Veterans’ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression: Clergy, Spiritual Counselors (Research, Video 4:42)

My hospice patient Nat was like many men and women who have served our country during wars. He suffered with repressed fear and sadness resulting from his experiences. We had many conversations about his life during my weekly visits with him. His story is typical of many veterans who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. These are words he spoke that I remember well:

(Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes)

“I fought in a war years ago. Gave the best I could give. I’ve seen and done things you couldn’t imagine. Some of them were horrible, I mean really horrible. Don’t ask me to tell you what they were. I can’t talk about it. They say time heals all wounds, but it’s a lie. I left Viet Nam, but Viet Nam never left me. I carry it with me everywhere I go. All these years later, I still have nightmares like you wouldn’t believe. The doctor says it’s post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I wake up shaking, gasping for breath with tears in my eyes. In my dreams, I’m always running hard trying to escape. Sometimes my enemies are close enough for me to touch. I almost stop breathing to keep them from hearing me. I’m constantly thinking I’m not going to make it. Some nights they kill me before I wake up. My dreams are so raw, so real they turn my soul inside out.”

Not much research is available about veterans like Nat regarding their search for support from clergy and spiritual counselors for their depression and PTSD. In this Veterans Administration research study, 761 veterans with probable major depression participated in telephone surveys. They were asked about their openness to seeking help and their actual contact with clergy and spiritual counselors during a six-month period. Almost half endorsed this support at some level. Ninety-one participants (12 %) reported actual clergy/spiritual counselor consultation. Others indicated support for primary care providers, psychiatrists and other mental health providers.

Knowing that veterans suffering with PTSD and depression are agreeable to receiving help from clergy and spiritual counselors as well as other providers is important. Including clergy and spiritual counselors, particularly those with specific PTSD training, on care teams for veterans can improve health of patients like Nat.

This video shares the PTSD journey of one marine veteran. Veterans Healing Initiative is a nonprofit dedicated to providing veterans of all eras access to treatment for substance abuse and PTSD. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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