• Why Gatherings Can Be Uncomfortable for Those with PTSD


    Like many people with PTSD, one of my best friends finds it difficult to attend church.

    Because I know her story and understand trauma, I understand her challenges.

    But when other people see her lack of attendance, they often think she isn’t committed to church.

    But this simply isn’t the case.

    Those who battle PTSD often find it difficult to navigate large gatherings.

    This is because their trauma locks them into the fight-flight mode and produces defensive coping mechanisms. These can include OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, fatalistic thinking, chronic illnesses, agoraphobia, and other symptom.

    The following list includes possible triggers for someone attending a church service or similar gathering. This list is provided to foster understanding and help organizations provide trauma-informed environments.

    1. Fear of germs or contracting illnesses from crowds.

    2. Discomfort being hugged or shaking hands.

    3. Anxiety walking through or sitting among large crowds.

    4. Need to sit with their back to a wall and/or at the rear of the room near an exit.

    5. Reluctance or anxiety about speaking to people.

    6. Frequency of physical illness (nausea, headaches, chronic pain, other illnesses).

    7. Concerns about food handling or preparation.

    8. Triggering smells/odors.

    9. Building safety issues (unsafe balconies, fear of heights, etc.).

    10. Noisy, chaotic environments (sometimes meaning gatherings with children).

    11. Environments that require a personal connection (people interacting).

    So how can organizations help?

    1. Talk about mental health issues honestly and openly. Help people feel understood and known. An environment of transparency and acceptance will begin from the top and trickle down.

    2. Offer mental health resources. Know what’s available in your community, and designate an individual or committee within your organization to refer to appropriate therapists and support groups.

    3. Create trauma-informed services, outreaches, and environments. Teach your church or oganization about PTSD. Provide alternate seating options, like benches in the foyer with monitors that allow members or attendees to view services without entering a large seating area. Understand that some people will have concerns about buffet-style food service. You may also want to offer learning environments where the environment has been adapted to those with PTSD (seating, time flexibility, smaller numbers, PTSD education as part of the curriculum, etc.).

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