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Training Offered to Clergy to Aid PTSD Sufferers

One in 4 to 1 in 5 service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health problems stemming from war will turn first to a member of the clergy for help, says a Honolulu physician specializing in PTSD.

"We suspect that there are issues of stigma, and some may not understand what mental health providers do," said Dr. James Spira, director of the Pacific Islands Division of the National Center for PTSD, explaining the possible reasons why returning service members avoid seeking professional medical help.

Nationally, the U.S. Departments of Veteran Affairs and Defense have been taking note of the recent development and now conduct PTSD workshops to train clergy how to recognize and support soldiers suffering from these invisible wounds, Spira said.

More than 90 religious leaders from Oahu and Maui will gather Thursday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay for a first-ever workshop on helping service members suffering from PTSD.

Sponsored by the Office of Sen. Daniel Akaka, the National Center for PTSD and Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System, the free, one-day event will offer training that will focus on understanding the perspectives of returned service members who have experienced trauma and what challenges religious leaders might face in helping them.

Akaka will give the opening remarks at the event, which will also feature presentations by Spira, other local doctors and veteran affairs advocates.

Members of the clergy who wish to participate should email their name, affiliation, address and phone number to vha21ncptsdid@va.gov or call the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD at 566-1546.

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