Spirituality in Relation to Ptsd, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

INTRODUCTION

This paper examines the concept of spirituality in the relationship to that of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The concept of PTSD is mostly associated with the military and exposure to dangerous combat situations.  Vietnam and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being prime examples.  Spirituality or deep religious beliefs have helped soldiers to combat and in some cases prevent soldiers from suffering the effects of PTSD.  The illness of PTSD is a psychological condition and an anxiety disorder that falls within the domain of mental illness.  The Canadian Mental Association stated that 1 in 10 people are impacted by PTSD and it is not purely confined to the military but can impact anyone that has been severely traumatised by a specific incident.  For example rape, mugging, natural disasters like Tsunamis, Earthquakes or Hurricanes.  (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2012).

Spirituality is the part where faith in the divine has strengthened both courage and conviction in overcoming severe mental stress.  Soldiers in Vietnam believed their cause was just and their faith was a source of inspiration protecting them from the pain and suffering that surrounded them. Others felt the opposite and that God had abandoned them at their time of need by allowing them to experience the horrors of war.   As such we did not have a benevolent or loving God that protected us during times of conflict.  (Nelson-Pechota, M. 2012)

SPIRITUALITY AND PTSD

Virtually all of the wars in the past have been supported by one type of religion or other.  The religions have attempted to provide justification and meaning for the war and to confirm that God is on their side.  It has also been used as an instrument to build morale and courage of conviction.  A prime example being the war in the Hold Land and the Crusades where the knights and soldiers were told they had a sacred duty to protect the Holy lands and the City of Jerusalem from the infidel Islamic nations that sought to destroy Christianity.

Supreme faith and belief can certainly provide an inner strength and strengthen a person’s resolve in battle or war conditions.  The early British Navy used Gin from Holland and this was nicknamed ‘Dutch Courage’, later replaced by Rum. The idea of the sailors being well under the influence of alcohol during battle conditions which helped to stiffen their resolve in the fighting.

The concept of spirituality in helping the symptoms of PTSD has been largely ignored by the medical community as misleading.  The concept of ‘blind faith’ being only a mechanism that helps to escape reality.  In some ways this is a form of suppression that can lead to only deeper psychological problems.  Psychologists feel that the need is to face the traumatic experiences and talk about them as a means of coming to terms with the experience, as opposed to trying to bury the feelings deep within our psychic consciousness.  Many Vietnam Veterans found symptoms subsided after several months with about 30% of the veterans experiencing some form of PTSD.

A large number of Christian soldiers that served in Vietnam believed that their religion was strengthened by their experiences in Vietnam.  Nevertheless, a fair proportion struggled in reconciling their faith with the consequences of the war.   It was estimated that around 50% of those injured in Vietnam abandoned their faith upon returning home.  (Nelson-Pechota, 2012).

COMPONENTS OF SPIRITUALITY

A sample of interviewed soldiers returning from the war in Vietnam stated that there were two main aspects of spirituality that sustained them through the war:

  • The power of prayer – Saying prayers helped in the relief of stress;
  • Spiritual relationship with God – The concept of feeling your life is part of a larger spiritual plan . The concept of trying to adhere to Christian values providing some moral justification for the horrors of war.

Research suggested that those soldiers that upheld spiritual beliefs and values had a greater resilience to PTSD and their adjustment from Combat to normal life conditions was much quicker.

RECOGNITION OF STRESS PROBLEMS

It is important to recognise the symptoms of acute stress.  The psychological symptoms of stress include that of mood swings, quick temper, easily agitated, the inability to relax, sense of isolation, bouts of depression, feeling of sadness etc. In a situation where you experience any of these conditions for more than a week, it is important to see your doctor. The doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. This is not a stigma but the importance to recognise that you need professional help in order to determine ways in order to cope with these emotional factors.

This does not always resort to a course of action involving treatment with drugs but may embrace much needed lifestyle changes. It has been accepted that most types of psychological stress disorders are associated with emotional and physiological disorders. One of the most recognisable symptoms is that of sleep disorder i.e. sleeps apnea, delayed sleep phase syndrome and over sleeping. This constant exposure of stress can also cause mental conditions that may result in compulsive obsessive behaviour and fear. In certain young adults this can lead towards substance abuse, excessive drinking, smoking etc. These paths result in destroying both self-esteem and confidence and may result in severe personality disorders.

Soldiers returning from combat need to be watched for such items as drug abuse, excessive drinking, isolation and drinking alone, spasmodic outbursts of violence.  These may all be symptoms of PTSD and need psychological counselling and treatment.  Left unattended they can lead to more serious potential mental illness problems.

PTSD, MENTAL ILLNESS AND NEUROSCIENCE

During the 19th Century it was considered that there was a strong link between serious mental disorder and violent behaviour. The violence is considered to be in the minority grouping of those patients with mental disorders and there has been strong links associated with behavioural dysfunctions through substance abuse or noncompliance with medical applications. Research conducted by Dr.E.F. Torrey[1]  in the United States looked at a cross-section of mental illness patients with violent or aggressive tendencies. In 1990 the National Association for the Mentally Ill in the USA studied some 1400 Families with Mental illness and violence. From this research they discovered a link that the majority of cases resulted from three distinct types of psychological conditioning i.e. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Acute Depression. (Torrey 1997).

Those that are suffering from PTSD are also at risk from other cognitive defects and illness problems. These include that of :-

| Schizophrenia – Neuropsychology can provide important information about the behavioural conditions and symptoms of brain damaged patients. It is often possible to detect conditions of brain abnormalities that provide clues to certain behavioural conditions. Schizophrenia is a relatively common ailment and statistics indicate the potential for 1:100 people to be impacted in their lifetime. It can appear at any time and take on a number of different forms.  Not all cases have been linked to violent or criminal behaviour but there are statistics involving homicides. Many of those afflicted have hallucinations and hear voices talking to them.  They feel as if their actions are being controlled by an external force. (Frith, C.D. 1992). It has been held that the study of social cognition in Schizophrenia may help to augment both the clinical and behavioural examination of the disorder. The use of non-social information processing models may help in the facilitation and explanation of the social dysfunction.

Bipolar Disorder –   Medication is now available as a maintenance treatment for those with bipolar disorder. Research has shown that a high proportion of patients do not comply with the treatment. Clinicians believe that there is a need for ‘psychoeducation’ in order to explain the importance of maintaining medication. Many patients find it difficult to accept that they have a mental or psychological illness. This causes them to rebel against the treatment program. Impulse controls have been accepted as a psychiatric disorder that results from illnesses like bipolar disorder. This often leads to acts of violent behaviour.

| Acute Depression – A study carried out by Jiri Modestin  that acute forms of depression may be the causes for certain acts of criminal behaviour.  The study examined some 261 patients with depressive or bipolar disorders. Most of the patients registered were observed to have criminal records. The observed that substance abuse was a common factor with those diagnosed with bipolar disorders. The research discovered that those patients suffering from acute depression showed considerable more signs of anger and violent tendencies. The use of Prozac that increases the Serontonin levels in the brain was seen to reduce the anger and violent tendencies.  (Modestin, J. 2007).

TRANSFORMATION OF TRAUMA AND HIGHER SPIRITUALITY

Research is not extensive in this area but John Wilson highlighted that in order to overcome the personal struiggles resulting from a PTSD disorder may question a persons spirituality or belief system.  It may result in questioning the purpose of God, the reason for living or promote a deeper search for a sense of purpose.  In this regard a new opportinity may be created for an individual to obtain a greater sense of purpose and self-actualization.  PTSD has been described as a complex psychobiological disorder with many different paths of treatment and rehabilitation often takes a long time. (Wilson, J. 2001).

Many Vietnam Veterans were reported as losing spirituality after experiencing PTSD at the end of the war.  This group had a much higher morbidity rate than those who did not have PTSD issues. Much of this was due to substance abuse, excessive drinking,  liver disease, cancer and suicide cases.  Crime also increased in this group with a number being arrested for homicide and other violent crimes.  Those seeking help for PTSD and persevering with the medical treatment programs had longer term survival prospects.  (Girod, R. 2008).

Within the context of biopsychosocial model of PTSD there is often an opportinity for the psychologists who are helping to treat the disorder.  This is often by taking a more holistic view of the patients in terms of their spiritual, moral, religious and cultural characteristics. Those that survived the terrible earthquake in Haiti and that of the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, attributed a strong religious belief to their sense of survival and that all would be well despite the terrible consequences that took place.  Despite thewir pains it was this faith belief and conviction that helped to lessen the impact of the trauma and PTSD.  (Peteet, J.R.  2011)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CONNECTION TO PTSD

The religious beliefs and concept of ‘faith’ form an important part of the cognitive meaning within the human system.  This is essentially that part of the brain that provides the response to such items as fear, response to stress and human reaction.  In severe trauma cases a person may be conditioned as to have an adaptive way in which to determine a harmful event.  When the disciples witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, they were traumatised by the event of a horrible form of execution but comforted in the faith and belief of the resurrection and that Christ was the redeemer and through his death mankind was offered salvation.  The concept of faith and belief offered the followers the resolve to continue and build the Christian faith. (Berg, S. 2011)

The concept of the religious or spiritual struggle is the ability to interpret and reconcile, or come to terms with, terrible or traumatic events.  It is not to evade or avoid them but to place them into context with a higher purpose or meaning. This can equally go the opposite way; a person who experiences a terrible event like the Vietnam War, may not be able to reconcile or explain the terrible events and as a result lose the faith or belief system.  This exposes the person to a much higher concentration of PTSA as they feel betrayed by the spirituality and a sense of loss that in turn leads to severe isolation. Such severe loss of faith can lead towards acute bouts of depression and the creation of suicidal tendencies. This spiritual displacement is the fear of being abandoned by God and results in feelings of guilt and whether they are being punished by God for some terrible retribution which they deserve. This can create psychological mind games with the victim and create a deep psychosis (mental illness) of withdrawal symptoms.

So ultimately spirituality can create a positive affect or that of an extreme negative influence that can result in compounding PTSD (Wortmann, J.H. 2011)

References

Berg, S. (2011). The relationship between spiritual distress, PTSD and depression in Vietnam combat veterans. Pub Med Spring-Summer;65(1-2):6:, 1-11.

Canadian Mental Health Association. (2012). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . Retrieved 6 12, 2012, from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

Frith, C. (1992). The cognitive neuropsychology of schizophrenia. Psychology Press.

Girod, R. L. (2008). Spirituality and Mortality in PTSD Combat Veterans. New York: Proquest.

Jennifer H. Wortmann, C. L. (2011). Trauma and PTSD Symptoms: Does Spiritual Struggle Mediate the Link? Pub Med 2011; 3(4): , 442–452.

John R. Peteet, F. G. (2011). Religious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Research Agenda . Arlington VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Modestin, J. (2007). Is depression a risk factor for crime. Crime Times.

Nelson-Pechota, M. (2012, 6 12). Spirituality and PTSD. Retrieved from National Conference of Vietnam Veteran Ministers: http://www.vietnamveteranministers.org/spirituality_intro.htm

Wilson, J. (2001). Treating Psychological Trauma and Ptsd. New York: Guildford Press.

[1] Edwin Fuller Torrey, M.D.  is an American psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher

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