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In the past year, studies reveal that approximately 22 former soldiers are committing suicide each day in the aftermath of post-war experiences in the Middle East.

Discussions were also fueled in the past year when the movie, “American Sniper” depicted the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2013, The Guardian reported U.S. military forces were in the midst of a suicide epidemic, citing that 349 service members committed suicide in 2012, compared to 295 who died in combat. To say life after war is more dangerous than life in the midst of battle is alarming. How should the church respond to this recent epidemic? Should the church respond?

Obviously, the church should be aware of PTSD, knowing the signs of PTSD and sharing the Gospel with those in distress. Two years ago, Woman’s Mission Union (WMUã), an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted PTSD as its critical issue to address in the church. In their efforts to bring about awareness, the issue of PTSD is complicated and goes beyond those who have served our military. This critical issue is sitting in your pews, but how will you respond?

First, understand that anyone who has been affected by a traumatic event can be susceptible to PTSD. Most people relate PTSD to military personnel, but others who might be affected include first responders, victims of a natural disaster, victims of childhood trauma, or victims of sexual abuse.

Second, there is a difference between Post-Traumatic Stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a diagnosable mental disorder and continues to bring distress for a long period of time. Post-Traumatic Stress is usually short-term, but has many of the same symptoms such as bad dreams, nervousness, or anxiety. To learn more, visit this helpful link.

Third, know the signs of suicidal tendencies. Isolation, aggression, substance abuse, self-harm, depression and other factors contribute to suicidal thoughts. If someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts, find help immediately. Be mindful of young adults taking prescription medications for anxiety and depression. While some find relief with medication, the side affect of increased suicidal thoughts is real.

Finally, most people affected with PTSD need others to walk with them through their journey. It’s easy for believers to want to “fix” people, but how can we learn to “embrace” people? Just as the church needs community with believers, those struggling with PTSD need people who will lend a listening ear and extend the Gospel with grace and love. Consider recovery groups or provide a resource with professional Biblical counselors in your community who can help others. In addition, consider how you help family members of those affected by PTSD. Many times they are the silent sufferers sitting in your Sunday School class or Bible Study.

If you would like additional resources to help you and your church reach out to those with PTSD, visit the WMU website.