PTSD Congregational Toolkit

UCC Mental Health Network
Congregational Toolkits on Mental Health Challenges


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic event. PTSD is a lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that cause intense fear or helplessness. It is among only a few mental disorders that are triggered by an outside event. There are four main clusters of symptoms:

1.      The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced (intrusion);
a.       Flashback episodes in which the event seems to happen again and again
b.      Repeated unsettling memories of the event
c.       Repeated nightmares of the event
d.      Strong uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event.

2.      Persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimulus after the event (avoidance);
a.       Emotional numbing or feeling as though you do not care about anything
b.      Feeling detached
c.       Not able to remember important parts of the event
d.      Not interested in normal activities
e.       Showing less of your moods
f.       Avoiding places, people or thoughts that remind you of the event
g.      Feeling like you have no future

  1. Negative alterations in cognition and mood;
a.       Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event
b.      Persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world
c.       Persistent negative blame of self or others
d.      Persistent negative trauma-related emotions
e.       Markedly diminished interest in significant activities
f.       Feeling alienated from others
g.      Inability to experience positive emotions

  1. Alterations in arousal and reactivity.  Hyperarousal
    1. Always scanning your surroundings for signs of danger
    2. Not being able to concentrate
    3. Startling easily
    4. Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
    5. Trouble falling or staying asleep

The person may also feel guilt about the event, including survivor guilt. The person may have symptoms of anxiety, stress and tension, agitation or excitability, dizziness, fainting, feeling heart beat in the chest or headache. Other common symptoms include feelings of mistrust and betrayal, depression and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and actions, and alienation. 

The vast majority of people in society will experience some sort of trauma in their lives; however, only a small percentage of them will develop PTSD.

We do not know why a traumatic event might cause PTSD in some people and not others. Genes, emotions, mental health status, alcohol, younger age, and lack of family and other support may all play roles.  Importantly, a previous episode of PTSD increases the risk of a later episode of PTSD.

PTSD affects relationships, ability to work, and parenting. Research has shown that PTSD changes the biology of the brain by affecting the way memories are stored. The area of the brain involved in emotional processing is reduced in size, the alarm system is over-reactive, and the integration system is under-reactive.  It is not known if these changes are reversible.

Rape is the number one cause of PTSD which explains why women are more likely to develop PTSD.

PTSD is often comorbid with other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety disorders or with substance or alcohol abuse disorders.


PTSD can be treated.  Individuals can increase the chance of a good outcome if they:
            Get help right away if they think they have PTSD
            Take an active part in their treatment
            Accept support from others
Take care of their health.  Exercise and eat healthy foods
 Do not use alcohol or recreational drugs
Challenge their sense of helplessness
Spend time in nature

PTSD can affect anyone at any age, so look for signs and symptoms in children and teens as well.

What clergy/staff need to know: 

The faith community can be an important resource for individuals living with and suffering from PTSD.  They can offer support that is sometimes not found in the family through prayers, referrals and fellowship. 
  • It is important to learn about the signs of PTSD
  • Find out what resources are available in your community, whether through a veterans center or an organization that helps women deal with sexual assault
  • Know your limits. This can be a very serious condition that might endanger your safety.
  • Be patient and understanding.
  • Include people with all types of mental health issues/brain disorders in your prayers for the people.
  • Help individuals with PTSD obtain the help they need to navigate the complex health care system or find someone in your congregation who will help do this.
  • Plan a service or part of a service that addresses mental health issues (see the Resource Guide for Mental Health Sunday). 
  • Visit individuals who are in treatment facilities (if possible), just as you would for anyone with another type of illness.

How your congregation can help

  • Plan a presentation on this subject during your adult education time.
  • Write an article for your newsletter about PTSD.
  • Invite those who are well on their way to recovery from PTSD to speak to your congregation, or show the PTSD: Healing and Hope video produced by Mental Health Ministries.
  • Reach out to those who live with PTSD—either by being a friend in a one-on-one setting or offering to go to church or some other spiritual event with them.
  • Offer your congregation the space to offer a support group for those living with PTSD
  • Encourage legislation which addresses the unmet needs of those with PTSD.
  • Most of all, see individuals with PTSD and other brain disorders as useful, important members of your congregation. They can offer you as much as you can offer them.
  • For Veteran's Day, consider using a bulletin insert prepared by Mental Health Ministries.


           Wounds of War: The Church as a Healing Community—download this resource packet from                the Presbyterians for Disability Concerns
            NAMI booklet on PTSD—may be downloaded for free
            NAMI factsheet on PTSD—use this fact sheet as a handout
PTSD and Your Family——has information on signs and symptoms in children and teens
            United States Department of Veterans Affairs:
                                    National Center for PTSD
            PTSD and Trauma Help Guide

All of the above resources were used in the creation of this toolkit.

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