Faith-based treatment should be explored as an option for helping solve PTSD epidemic

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An invisible epidemic is plaguing our nation. It affects our loved ones, co-workers, and neighbors, and sadly, it is not a new phenomenon. It has ravaged relationships and lives throughout the centuries, and before we even knew its name, it was referenced in literary works by Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Over the years it has been called many things. Following the Civil War, we called it “Soldier’s Heart.” After the first World War, it was referred to as “Combat Fatigue” or “Shell Shock.” Today, we call it post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and it is still wreaking havoc.

PTSD affects 8 million Americans each year and regrettably, too many of these individuals are suffering in silence. The reality of living with PTSD is a daily struggle for a growing number of veterans and servicemembers. However, this condition is not confined to those who have served in our military. It is also an enduring burden for our police officers, sexual assault survivors and many others who have experienced a significant trauma.

Thankfully, progress has been made over the last few decades in identifying and treating the symptoms of PTSD. As a community, our medical professionals have moved away from purely pharmaceutical responses and now include many trauma-focused psychotherapies as the most highly recommended type of treatment. This form of talk therapy has proven beneficial and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports it has a 25 percent higher success rate than using medication alone. However, even with the primary use of these drug-free treatments, 80 percent of VA treated veterans with PTSD still receive psychiatric medications.

Mental health professionals and many in our society have tried to medicalize trauma. They follow clinical practice guidelines in an attempt to treat injuries to the psyche. While both pharmaceutical and psychotherapy approaches have merit and undoubtingly help alleviate the struggles of life with PTSD, they fail to address the underlying issue – the wound to the soul that trauma has caused. While some medications can help rebalance chemicals in the brain, they cannot heal one’s inner self. We must expand the discussion beyond the physical and physiological to include the spiritual dimension of whole-body healing from PTSD.

Chad Robichaux and his team at the Mighty Oaks Foundation do a great job of doing this by offering a faith-based solution to helping veterans recover from PTSD. A former Force Recon Marine and combat veteran, Chad found himself – like too many others – at rock-bottom, dealing with a “dead” marriage and thoughts of suicide. Rather than succumb to his symptoms, he searched out answers, and was helped along by his faith and guidance from other Christians. Since that dark period, Chad has emerged as a leader on peer-to-peer, faith-based, combat-trauma recovery programs, and seeks to mentor others like him. Not only does he share his perspective and experiences with every Marine Corps recruit, he offers his services as a speaker to all military branches. Additionally, Chad’s non-profit Warrior Programs team is helping America’s heroes and their families suffering from the unseen wounds of combat at no cost to them. Through intensive peer-to-peer programs, Mighty Oaks utilizes “God’s transformational power to turn tragedy into triumph.”

Despite the success of Mighty Oaks, which has helped thousands of veterans and service members heal, and the achievement of similar organizations, their efforts have not been embraced as a mainstream treatment option. Instead, the simple mention of God or the idea of spirituality as a mechanism to repair mental wounds is often met with resistance. Faith, God, and spirituality are not dirty words, and with 20 veterans and service members committing suicide each day, we can no longer turn our backs on any PTSD or mental health treatment option that works. Instead we should celebrate organizations like Mighty Oaks and encourage partnerships between faith-based PTSD treatment groups and organizations like the VA.

The inclusion of faith-based solutions to combating suicide and PTSD has been embraced by the highest echelons of the executive branch. In President Trump’s executive order on ending veteran suicide, he calls for the inclusion of faith-based organizations and this acknowledgement should be lauded. Like the president, I believe there is a spiritual element to trauma that should not be ignored. So, we must offer help to those suffering from PTSD in a way that not only repairs their psyche but heals their soul.

Solving the PSTD epidemic will take a layered communal approach from friends, family members, medical practitioners, non-profits, and faith-based resources. Only by working together can we identify the signs and symptoms of PTSD and properly link those suffering with treatment options that work. We are at precipice with PTSD. We can either embrace solutions that work, even if they are viewed as non-traditional – or we can continue to watch millions of Americans suffer in silence.

Hartzler is ranking member of the House Armed Services Tactical Air & Land Forces Subcommittee.

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