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NEWS | June 16, 2021

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month: Not All Scars are Visible

By Allison Conti, Public Affairs Specialist Norfolk Naval Shipyard

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, an observance intended to raise public awareness about issues related to the disorder, reduce ITS stigma, and help to ensure that those suffering from the disorder have access to proper care.

PTSD can occur after an individual has been through a traumatic experience.  The event made the individual feel unsafe to potentially being life-threatening, or that the life and well-being of others was being threatened. Some examples of traumatic experiences include being in a combat zone, sexual trauma, terrorist attacks, physical violence, natural disasters, life-threatening illnesses, and serious accidents. According to the National Center for PTSD, six out of every 10 men and five out of every 10 women will experience at least one trauma in their life and seven or eight out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their life. About 8 million adults experience PTSD during a given year.

According to the Department of the Navy’s Civilian Employee Assistance Program (DONCEAP), symptoms of PTSD include: having nightmares, vivid memories of flashback of the traumatic experience, feeling endangered, experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, feeling disconnected or numb, and having trouble sleeping.

PTSD awareness is important for Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) community as the shipyard workforce includes a number of veterans, a population that has an increased chance of experiencing PTSD, especially if they have served in combat areas. According to the National Center for PTSD, 11-20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, 12 percent of veterans who served in the Gulf War, and 15 percent of those who served in the Vietnam War experience PTSD.

“PTSD in veterans often leads to suicide where the suicide rate is 50 percent higher than those who did not serve in the military,” said Veterans Employee Readiness Group (VET-ERG) President Nicholas Boyle. “The challenges of adjustment and transition, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities all need to be addressed, especially as these things result in barriers to education, employment, health care, and overall individual well-being. Many of these needs are being met by a combination of different veteran-serving nonprofits and Veteran Affairs (VA) support. If you suffer from, or think you may suffer from, PTSD, seek help from the command, DONCEAP, the VA, or friends and family before you let your battle become collateral.”

However, PTSD is not a disorder that is exclusive to veterans and those who have served in the military. NNSY’s Individuals with disABILITIES Employee Resource Group (IWD-ERG) Chairperson Daniel Freeh said, “trauma has happened and can happen right here at home and at NNSY. Keep that in mind as you go through your day and interact with so many people; anyone of them could be suffering and you would not even know it.”

Sexual trauma and violence often cause PTSD in victims. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 94 percent of women who are sexually assaulted experience PTSD during the two weeks following and 30 percent of women report symptoms of PTSD nine months later. NNSY’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Shalise Bates-Pratt said, “It is normal for survivors of sexual violence to have feelings of fear, stress or anxiety.  Often times, how long a victim might experience this has to do with factors like how sensitively their report is handled by those they tell initially, the strength of their support system, age, previous trauma experiences, and severity of assault. However, if these feelings of anxiety stretch longer than a few weeks, and is severe enough to affect every day work, family and social life, we always have our victim advocates recommend that survivors seek out professional medical and mental health services, as their post-trauma anxiety may have morphed into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at that point. Seeking help is a sign of strength.  It shows resilience to know when you need extra help and to ask for it.  Being sexually assaulted is not your fault, but much like a physical injury from an accident, it is still your responsibility to seek help if you need it.” 

There are a number of resources available to those who may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD. The primary treatment for the disorder is counseling. According to DONCEAP, “counseling can help you understand your thoughts and learn ways to cope with your feelings. This can help you feel more in control and get you back to the activities of your life.” DONCEAP offers free, confidential counseling and can refer employees to therapists in their area. If an employee has thoughts about hurting themselves or someone else, he or she should call 911, 1-800-273-TALK, or go to a hospital emergency room right away.

PTSD is not a life sentence. There are treatments for the disorder that allow the symptoms to become less intense or stop them from coming back. Treatment can help someone experiencing PTSD reconnect with their family, friends, and community.

NNSY employees are encouraged to seek treatment if needed and to familiarize themselves with PTSD. Shipyard Commander Capt. Dianna Wolfson’s Command Philosophy encourages all employees to “demonstrate humility and respect to our teammates,” and the shipyard’s C.O.R.E. values call on its employees to Care for and Respect one another. By being informed about PTSD, NNSY team members can look out for each other making us a stronger team driving one mission. 

“It’s important to remember when one of us is hurt through harmful words or behaviors, the team is weakened, and when the team is weakened, our ability to serve our Navy and nation is compromised,” said Wolfson.  “Building One Team starts with us as caring and committed individuals invested in our team’s success.  For us to be successful, it must be a way of life in all aspects of our work.”

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Resources Available to NNSY Sailors and Civilian Employees Struggling with PTSD:

Department of Defense (DoD) Safe Helpline: All Safe Helpline services are anonymous, confidential, 24/7 and tailored to support members of the DoD community and their loved ones affected by sexual assault. To reach the Safe Helpline, call 1-877-995-5247 or visit safehelpline.org. Resources include online confidential helpline and chat rooms, a free self-care app, information, resources and referrals to local programs.

Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program: Confidential free services including counseling, online programs, work-life services, and more can be found on the DONCEAP website magellanascend.com or by calling 1-844-DONCEAP (366-2327). DONCEAP can also refer employees to local therapists.

Fleet and Family Service Center (FFSC): Available for active duty Sailors, Reservists, and dependents. The local FFSC has a Counseling and Advocacy Program, which provides confidential, short-term individual, marital, couples, and child counseling, group counseling and workshops. NNSY’s local FFSC is Navy Medical Center Portsmouth which can be reached at 757-953-7801.

Military Crisis Line: The Military Crisis Line connects a person in need to a trained counselor with a single phone call or click of a mouse. It is confidential and immediate help is available 24/7 at no cost to active duty, National Guard, and reserve members along with their families and friends. In the United States, call 1-800-273-8255 then press 1 or access the online chat by texting 838255.

National Center for PTSD: The National Center for PTSD is the world’s leading research and educational center on PTSD and traumatic stress. Learn more by visiting https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp.

YWCA of South Hampton Roads 24/7 Hotline: Many local sexual assault and domestic crisis centers offer free or low-cost counseling options for survivors. The local crisis center in Hampton Roads is YWCA. To reach them 24/7, call 757-251-0144 to schedule crisis short-term and long-term adult or children’s counseling for victims, significant others, and friends and family affected by sexual assault.