By Sarah PitmaN
What can “cause”/”trigger” PTSD? How can we cope? What help is available to those who are suffering? Once damage has been done, how can we move forward and take preventative action?
We hear the stories, we read the news, and we know it’s out there: sexual assault. Lately, sexual assault in the workplace has been a major focus in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, but it extends way beyond that. This type of violence can be found in schools, homes, communities all over the world. And if the physical effects of sexual assault are not traumatizing enough, the implications and lasting impact these encounters may have on an individual can lead to even more serious long-term health consequences. Research has shown that victims of sexual assault and harassment are more likely to suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety and many other disorders. And this comes at a time when we are welcome the month of November: on November 11th we honor Veteran’s Day--a day dedicated to paying tribute to those who serve and defend our country--many of whom are often battling some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. In a podcast of “Sincerely, X,” host June Cohen states that “a mental health crisis is as real as any health crisis.” And she is not alone in thinking that. Trauma and its effects contribute to mental illness in a huge way. Statistics show that over half of all Americans experience some form of trauma throughout their lives, and one in five battles mental illness each year. So, as a society, we are certainly not strangers to it. People are taking note, maybe even moreso now than before in the wake of these current events. But beyond just increasing awareness, we should work to find what solutions we can. An obstacle that plays a role in the healing and coping with mental illnesses, such as PTSD, is the randomness and variety of outbreaks. As a community, it is imperative that we take proactive steps to help those dealing with this disorder and other trauma. Here are a number of actions we can take to be more prepared:
Create a safe environment. A common reaction that people suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder may face is called maladaptive stress response. This reaction can be brought on by anything, which is what makes it so difficult to treat and prevent. Despite our best efforts, we may not be able to predict what will cause these triggers, but by creating a safe environment we can enable survivors to cope.
Put aside judgments. As with mental illness, there is stigma around PTSD. How we can help is by removing our judgment and preconceptions surrounding the situations. Shaming the victim and placing blame is not the right approach. First, assume trauma has happened and do not question the story. And, in the case of sexual abuse and assault, trauma is isolated to women. We must cast aside all that we think we know in order to be truly supportive.
Speak out and spread awareness. This is what appears to be happening now in the news--and as a community, we can respond with compassion. Sharing and speaking about trauma, even if not personal, can be difficult as wounds extend deep beyond the obvious. Many people do not wish to be identified by or through their illnesses and may prefer to remain anonymous. We must honor that decision and not pressure them to share more than they are comfortable.
Listen. It’s not about us. Focus on the feelings of the survivor, not on our own emotions, experiences, and struggles. It is the time to give our undivided attention to those willing to step forward and share. It often takes an unimaginable amount of courage to come forward and tell one’s story. The appropriate response that we can have is to listen.
Educate. More and more we are seeing police departments and emergency medical response units receiving advanced and additional training in these de-escalation and mitigation techniques to handle trauma. Let’s keep that trend going, and extend it beyond just these professional responders, to everyone. Moreover, medical professionals can continue to research therapies and treatments beyond what is already known.
do not have experience in the military or in violent combat situations, but as a victim (I usually don’t wish to use that word) of sexual assault and rape, I have the ability to personally sympathize, to a point, with those handling PTSD in the aftermath of trauma. Healing takes time. One of the ways I have taken action to help is by volunteering for the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center when I lived in Atlanta during college. I took an intensive training course on how to respond to calls and reports that came into the hotline, and spent several 12-hour shifts with the phone pressed to my ear, listening to horrific events and recounts of rape and sexual abuse from all over, from the distant past and present. It was not just women who call--men experience call too, all ages, all ethnicities, ALL.
I am fortunate to have learned in detail the action steps I have listed above and more. Though volunteering as I did may not be feasible or possible for everyone, the message is clear: we can and need to do a better job stepping up to the plate as a society. And it does not have to be a huge undertaking...it can be as “easy” as just listening with undivided attention and being kind to those fighting.
Meet our Author Sarah Pitman
When asked what she does, Sarah replies with "spread sunshine through yoga, meditation, and creative expression." She may get the occasional blank stare, but it's the truth. Sharing her story and her message through yoga and writing is how she heals, and has been her greatest form of therapy. Since moving to LA last year, she has received her yoga teacher training certification, mentored and assisted additional trainings and workshops, and explored blogging and writing. Currently, she is receiving her advanced training in restorative yoga to both aid in her own recovery and for her professional aspirations. She incorporates breath, meditation, and alignment through conscious body awareness in her classes, preferring more gentle flows and philosophical teaching. For her, the combination of yoga and writing is a journey of self, and is always evolving. She teaches private and corporate classes in-person and online, and also collaborates with health and wellness companies worldwide, through social media, writing, marketing, and instruction. Encouraging acceptance for all is her mission. Just "keep shining"...