When “shots fired” went out over police scanners in Thousand Oaks, first responders rushed to the scene at the Borderline. A fun-filled college night with family and friends had been shattered by a gunman’s bullets. A mass shooting was underway. People broke out windows and assisted others to flee for their lives. There were dead inside and survivors began to cope with the aftermath of the chaos. Most would later report symptoms of PTSD.
The next day these events would be compounded by the fire, which broke out nearby. Suddenly this fire, swept by high winds and gusts, went out of control. Soon multiple cities were threatened, and neighborhoods were on fire. As the flames rushed down canyons and valleys, people struggled to get out. Fear gripped many and once again people experienced trauma.
Millions of people are survivors of trauma. Rape victims, abused children, veterans of combat, witnesses to mass shootings, survivors of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and massive wild fires are just many causes of trauma. Automobile crashes, the collapse of bridges and balconies, and personal losses all can be traumatizing. When physical and emotional symptoms arise from these events, a person often experiences PTSD.
What is PTSD? Trauma is a wound, and PTSD is a psychological wound. PTSD results from exposure to an overwhelming event or series of events, such as war, rape, or abuse. It is a normal response by normal people to abnormal situations. The traumatic events that lead to PTSD are typically so extraordinary or severe that they would distress almost anyone. These events are usually sudden. They are perceived as dangerous to oneself or others, and they overwhelm our ability to respond adequately.
What are typical symptoms of PTSD? Avoiding triggers, withdrawing from people, numbing emotional responses, nightmares, problems with concentration, exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, troubling thoughts, unusual emotional or exaggerated responses (anger, crying), distorted beliefs, dissociative behaviors (flashbacks, events are occurring again, loss of awareness of surroundings), among other symptoms.
A mental health professional with training in trauma and PTSD is most helpful to survivors. Supportive family members and friends are essential to stabilize these survivors.
An excellent resource for church workers is “The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide for Healing, Recovery and Growth” by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D. (McGraw Hill, 2013). There are 19 chapters of treatment options and a chapter on religious resources. It covers a wide-range of symptoms and links to other resources.
We need to be prepared for trauma and care for those who suffer from PTSD in our congregations, in our community and in our own families.
(One Minute, from Rev. Ron Rehrer, Counselor for Church Workers,
ph: 949.433.5182; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)