Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with military veterans, but no one is immune from the effects of trauma.
“One in 5 American adults has been a victim or witness to events that traumatized them in just the past 10 years,” according to a recent Barna Group study. “Trauma in America: Understanding How People Face Hardships and How the Church Offers Hope” was conducted in partnership with the American Bible Society.
Death and abuse are leading causes of trauma among Christians and nonbelievers alike, according to Barna, though individuals may not immediately recognize their long-term impact.
As a result, those affected by trauma often don’t seek help until later in life, if at all, said Nicole Martin, ABS vice president of church engagement and executive director of trauma healing.
“Research into adverse childhood events shows that many lives are actually shortened due to trauma’s lasting effects on health and vitality,” the report said.
Additionally, there isn’t much difference inside and outside the church in the rates of those who experience trauma.
The death of a loved one is an event churches see often and recognize as trauma. As a result, they usually are prepared to help with grief and loss. But there are many other common traumas people of faith may not recognize, said Lisa Keane, clinical director of Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
“Childhood traumas include such events as adoption, foster care, sexual abuse, physical abuse, car accidents and natural disasters,” Keane said. “Other causes include domestic violence, assault and other events where the individual is in real or perceived danger.”
Through the past year, COVID-19 has been a source of trauma on many fronts. Barna found that PTSD symptoms have been seen in survivors, friends and family of sick loved ones, those affected economically and frontline workers who are regularly exposed to the virus. Many people also have been affected by the bombardment of information.
“Trauma is defined as our emotional reaction to an actual or threatened terrible event,” she explained. “Traumatic stress can absolutely be caused by what we have experienced in this pandemic. All aspects of the pandemic, including quarantine, fear for self or loved ones and isolation can cause trauma.
“We have also seen trauma responses after the racial unrest in our nation as well as the recent elections. When people do not feel safe, are constantly on alert and are being flooded with stress hormones, there is always a potential to develop a trauma response,” Keane said.
She listed common symptoms, which include changes in sleep, diet and physical activity; recurring nightmares and intrusive thoughts about the trauma; and physical symptoms such as aches and pains not explained by a medical condition.
“If any of these symptoms are present and do not resolve on their own once the threat is over, I would consider that to be ongoing trauma,” Keane said.
Though some can heal on their own, outside help often is needed.
Diane Langberg, practicing psychologist, author and contributor to the Barna report, said, “Many people try to push it out of their minds and not deal with it, so it continues to be harmful to them.”
Mike McGrew, founder of 911 At Ease International, a support organization for first responders, notes the importance of utilizing licensed counselors to treat first responders with PTSD.
“If a person saw [his/her] partner with a broken arm, you wouldn’t just say, ‘You have a broken arm.’ You would say, ‘Let’s go to the emergency room and get that fixed,’” McGrew said. “Making people feel comfortable using that help when they need it, that’s important.”
McGrew, who wrote about his own healing from trauma in his book “A Higher Call to Duty,” said it’s common for traumatized individuals to misinterpret their emotions and symptoms.
“Trauma is a brain injury and something that can be treated, healed — something that you can use for good,” McGrew explained. The situation may feel hopeless, he said, but “there’s always hope … and an opportunity to heal.”
10 most common causes of trauma
- Death of a loved one
- Betrayal by someone you trust
- Domestic violence
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Watching someone die or be abused
- Near death experience or significant injury
- Major financial setback
- Job loss
Source: Barna Research
To learn more about the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Ministry, go to ministry.americanbible.org/mission-trauma-healing.
Click here to read about the top sources of trauma among Christians.
Click here to read how student leaders can help with anxiety disorders in children.
Click here to read practical ways parents and church leaders can help.