By Julia DiSimone
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not only caused by the trauma of combat. The typical portrait of a person dealing with PTSD is a military veteran who experiences flashbacks, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance and self-destructive behavior because of the traumatic events they experienced during deployment. Though this scenario is relevant to many people’s lives, PTSD is caused by more factors than critical incident stressors such as natural disasters, assault or combat.
In Chris Adsit’s talk at the Hatfield library, the Eugene-based advocate on PTSD issues explained the many causes of the disorder. Besides combat trauma, PTSD can also be brought on by physical injury, experiencing minor traumas over one’s lifetime, witnessing but not directly experiencing traumatic events and inheriting trauma from someone else.
Sufferers of sport injuries or car accidents can experience a disorder with similar symptoms to PTSD called traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI results in similar symptoms to PTSD with additional physical disorientation because TBI is a physical rather than a psychological disorder.
PTSD can also be caused by a moral injury: doing or witnessing something that goes against your deeply-held moral beliefs. This elicits a guilt response because of what one did or did not do, while PTSD caused by a traumatic event brings on a fear response because the trauma happened to them. Cumulative stress can also bring on PTSD. Chronic exposure to stress-inducing incidents, such as abuse, poverty or illness, can potentially develop into a disorder. This is the most common cause of PTSD amongst the prison population.
Derivative stress can also cause PTSD. Traumas, such as the trauma of colonization, can be inherited. These traumas can be passed down over generations so that a descendant experiences PTSD from something they did not directly experience. Compassion fatigue can cause PTSD when the sufferer, usually someone in a helping profession, internalizes and absorbs the pain of a trauma sufferer.
Some people experience trauma but fortunately do not suffer from PTSD. In these situations, the sufferer experiences post-traumatic stress, but this is a transient stress which can disappear on its own within a day. A stressful day at work or school can fade after some evening downtime and relaxation, and the stress does not develop into a disorder. However, when someone has to stay in a high-intensity situation for some time, that post-traumatic stress can become PTSD.
With all these many causes of PTSD, this disorder affects people in our community across many professions and life circumstances. To help first responders, veterans and their families in the Eugene area heal from PTSD, husband-and-wife team Chris and Rahnella Adsit established their non-profit, Branches of Valor. Chris and Rahnella Adsit have been studying PTSD since 2005, Chris as a Christian Reverend and Rahnella as a crisis and trauma counselor.
In his talk at Willamette this spring, Chris Adsit told the story of how he and his wife came to do this work, “We immersed ourselves in that world, so we could learn how we can best be used to help them with that experience of trauma.”
Adsit’s talk centered around the many causes of PTSD and the unique approach he and Rahnella Adsit take in addressing trauma recovery. Chris Adsit explained to an audience of students and professors that there are three dimensions of PTSD: the physical, psychological and spiritual. While most trauma care only addresses the physical and psychological elements of the disorder, the Adsits incorporate spiritual healing so that PTSD sufferers can benefit from holistic healing and the empowerment it can provide. The Adsits feel that trauma care is incomplete without this spiritual element, which Chris Adsit called the “untapped healing potential” in PTSD sufferers.
The pair is also unique in that their work focuses not only on the most apparent sufferers of PTSD, but also their families. Branches of Valor works with the families of combat veterans and first responders who endure secondary trauma brought home by the PTSD sufferer.
Chris Adsit explained that at Branches of Valor, they work to destigmatize PTSD. This disorder is not a crazy reaction to trauma but instead a natural and understandable response which deserves holistic treatment.
Chris Adsit said, “PTSD is a wound that can heal. Bleeding is normal when you are cut. It would be abnormal if someone was not wounded by the chaos of life-and-death situations.” The aim of Branches of Valor is to help people move out of that stress and cope with it so they can heal and grow.