By Vanessa Stapleton – President Armor Up West Virginia
People will recognize every injury out there as long as they can see it. The problem with PTSD is that often it is only those in the immediate family who see PTSD’s devastation. Those who see behind closed doors the nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, severe isolation, bursts of rage, and so much more that those outside of the home are not privy to seeing. First responders and military are trained so well to maintain a sense of calm in crisis, therefore, they are excellent at hiding their PTSD in public. The family, however, often sees it for months and years before it becomes to known to others. The problem this creates is that by the time others realize there is an issue, the PTSD has become the least of the problem often overshadowed by drinking, addiction (which includes medication, porn, sex, gambling), and the family falling apart.
Why are our first responders and military not getting help? That is the question we ask more than any other. What we have found more recently is that some of the family members are reaching out. The problem is that they are not getting help from those they reach out to. We could discuss the fact that not every therapist can handle the things our first responder’s and military have seen and heard. Many aren’t even familiar with first responder and military life. That is why organizations like Serve and Protect hand pick therapists for our first responder’s.
More than that though, where do most people go when their family is in crisis? Often times, a family will seek guidance within their church because that is a place of trust and comfort. Unfortunately, many of our families state they sought guidance from their pastor or preacher without any real results. Why is that? Well, for many reasons.
There is a serious lack of mental health education among pastors and preachers. A perfect example is that most pastors and preachers are also not educated in emergency medical services. If you get shot, stabbed, or involved in a car wreck, do you take yourself to the church or to the hospital? Most would agree that you do not go to the church then home with a bullet wound. You may call your pastor for prayer or a hospital visit, but you certainly do not expect your pastor to fix your bullet wound. WHY? Because the pastor isn’t trained or educated to treat that wound. Would a pastor tell someone with a bullet lodged in their arm bleeding all over the church to go home and pray about it. Absolutely not. So why are they telling our PTSD families to go home and pray about it? It is simple. They are not trained or educated to handle the complexity of the PTSD wound.
I am one of the biggest Jesus followers out there. When my own family was wrecked withPTSD, I sought guidance from our church. I was told repeatedly that I was not praying enough. I needed to fast and pray more. I pray often. I carry anointing oil in my purse. My bible is always on hand. Yet, I was told to pray and fast more as if that was the “cure” for PTSD. I was never told to seek outside help for my spouse or my family.
Here is my point. If I encountered someone with a stab wound, I would not anoint the injured parties with oil and send them home telling them to pray more until they were healed. Would I expect the open, bleeding wound to be healed according to how much they prayed when they got home? Absolutely not. I would pray with them. I would also call them an ambulance or take them to a hospital equipped to handle their injury.
If someone came to me at church with a protruding bone, would I give them the advice to pray and send them home? Never. Why are people with PTSD being treated like that? Because their injury cannot be physically seen. It IS an injury. Our families are quietly reaching out to their churches for help, but are being told to pray more. For me, I repeatedly told them my spouse was suffering with PTSD. I was told to pray more. I was told to be more supportive which ultimately resulted in me enabling his PTSD. When his PTSD grew into full blown addiction in the form of porn and sex, I was given the advice of pleasing my husband more and being a better wife. Our pastor did not recognize that PTSD had grown into addiction because there is little to no education for our church leaders on it. Therefore, I was given unhelpful advice and no resources at all. I have found the same to be said of many families who went to their church leadership looking for help.
PTSD is an injury resulting from trauma. It is treatable. PTSD requires very specific treatment. Without the proper treatment, PTSD can progress into many other issues. We would like to encourage every church and every church leader to know the resources for our people. We encourage all churches to reach out for resources. We encourage all church leadership to attend our PTSD education trainings to be aware of what to look for and where to get help for the family in need. If families are given unhelpful advice in the midst of a PTSD crisis, the result unfortunately, is often times divorce. If we can intervene and get real help to the family, the family stands a greater chance of making it together.
This is not an attack on the church as a whole. It is, unfortunately, occurring so often that it needs addressed. Recently, more and more families are telling us the same story. We encourage churches to be involved in the healing process. A good support system is necessary for the family and church plays a huge role in that. However, we want our churches to be able to help in the right way without hindering healing in this PTSD crisis we are facing. We recently dealt with a first responder who had become an alcoholic to cope with his PTSD. His pastor was giving him weekly counseling, meanwhile, his family was unraveling. The reason his family was unraveling was because the pastor didn’t recognize the need for treatment of the PTSD or the need for inpatient treatment for the alcoholism. Also, this pastor had never heard of Safe Call Now, which is the national crisis hotline for our first responders. Simply counseling an alcoholic once a week isn’t enough. Without addressing the PTSD which led to alcoholism, he couldn’t heal. A simple resource like Safe Call Now for the pastor could have led to help for that family. Unfortunately, they didn’t get that help.
By the time the family called us, they were in the midst of a divorce because the proper resources were not given to them a year prior. Had this man gone to the church with a visible wound, he would have been given other resources for help. We CAN fix this. We can overcome this. I believe churches should be our biggest referral source. As of now, they are our lowest referral source. The stories are growing daily on those who tried the church first for help, yet received nothing. I believe pastors and church leaders are inherently good people with good intentions. Resources are the key to getting real help for our people. We aren’t asking our church leaders to add more education or add more burden to their packed schedules. We are simply asking them to have the proper resources and referrals for the crisis of our first responder’s and military. It is no secret that more first responder’s and military die by suicide than any other death. We are simply trying to prevent more divorce in the church and prevent more eulogies from being needed.
So what now? Now, we get a Safe Call Now brochure to every church who wants one. Now, we start having an open dialogue within the church about PTSD and resources for help. Now, we encourage churches to come out to our events and conferences if they are able. We encourage church leaders to call the hotline to get help for our families. We encourage not ignoring an injury, but instead bringing help and healing to our families.
This is a “taboo” topic we have steered clear of because we love church, and we love God. However, story after story keeps coming in of families trying to get help, unsuccessfully, through the church. We shared two examples, but there are so many more we could share. By the time the family finds Safe Call Now, months and years have gone by and the PTSD has progressed to the point of utter devastation. We have hit the crossroads of continuing to ignore a growing problem or trying to face it head on. We choose to face it with the hope of opening the door to a solution.
If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:
Safe Call Now: 24 Hour Confidential Hotline: 206-459-3020
For more information on the First Responders program: Click here
Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008