Tag Archives: #stevesparksdepoebay

Empathy and Compassion….We need to think about what happened not what is wrong!

A Humvee doesn’t offer much protection for combat soldiers who are at risk of an IED explosion.

Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

by Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

I want to tell you about a young man whose story touches so many things that are important to me–honoring veterans, helping the homeless, treating addictions. He’s a Lincoln County native who came from the most loving, supportive family you could imagine. Did well in school. Honorably served in Afghanistan. He was riding in a Humvee like this that ran over an IED that went off. Complained of back pain. Was given opioid pain killers and sent home. Months later, when the pain persisted, the VA finally did an MRI and found he had a fractured back. Cut off his pain meds. He had a live-in companion, a child, a home, a responsible job. He turned to heroin to deal with the ongoing pain and lost companion, child, home and job. Ended up running afoul of the law and making the news. I saw many horrible comments about him here on Facebook. Ignorant, judgmental people. There’s a ray of hope now. He’s in treatment and so far, so good, but he faces a long road. We have to stop criminalizing addictions, people. We have to start honoring veterans by doing more than just spouting slogans and waving the flag. We have to become a more just and caring society. I know, I’m a dreamer. But if I stop dreaming, I’ll lose hope.

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I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life.  When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.”  This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64.  Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong.  Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. In the story above, we are talking about a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the horrific violence of war.  The explosion from an IED can also cause traumatic brain injury, a compounded physical injury that affects a persons ability to process stressful circumstances.  We know now that the human brain is rewired, the chemistry changes to adapt to extreme survival circumstances that combat veterans experience in extended deployments on the battlefield.  Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer terribly, often 24/7 with the emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen.

I hope Bill Hall’s story and my comments help others to empathize with all veterans who come home after serviing America in wars we start and often never finish. We citizens send young men and women to war, afterall.  The war comes home to the dinner table and the community where it is often extremely difficult for veterans to readjust to a typical life as a member of our society.  Be kind, be loving, listen and learn, then guide your dear friend and loved one to a path of healing.  We know how to help in the 21st Century.  There was a time decades ago when sons, daughters, fathers and mothers came home from war and we had no idea what they were experiencing emotionally, and didn’t know what to do.  There are no more excuses for ignorance, no more excuses for a lack of empathy and compassion!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, Mental Health Champion

click here for my author page…

 

 

Lincoln County Oregon Stepping Up Initiative is Profoundly Transformational!

Lincoln County Oregon Commissioner Bill Hall, Sheriff Curtis Landers, and Steve Sparks, Stepping Up Initiative Project Consultant

 

Lincoln County Oregon Media Release…click image for larger view…

Moving Forward and Stepping Up – By Bill Hall, Curtis Landers and Steve Sparks

 

(9.15.17 – Lincoln County, OR)

 

The three of us teamed up a year ago to launch an effort that’s beginning to transform Lincoln County in profound ways. Stepping Up is a national effort to transform the way we deal with people with mental illness and addiction issues in the justice system, but its’ impacts are even more far-reaching.

In early 2015, the American Psychiatric Association, Council of State Governments and National Association of Counties came together to launch Stepping Up.  Jails and prisons have become the default holding facilities in our country for people with mental illness and addictions issues. It’s estimated that nationally, more than two million people are behind bars primarily because of behavioral health challenges.

Why is this a problem? Just a few of the reasons:

These institutions aren’t equipped to deal with this population. They don’t get better behind bars; their condition deteriorates.

This group tends to get stuck in the system, with longer stays often for relatively minor offenses, making it more difficult to keep people in custody who truly need to be there.

It drains public resources, in both the correctional and health care systems, as these people cycle through the system again and again.

Is this a problem in Lincoln County? Yes. Our jail holds 161 people. At any given time, about 30 percent of these folks have a diagnosed mental illness, and about a third of this group are severely and persistently mentally ill. This 30% does not include those with addictions issues.

Their numbers are growing, yet our total number of jail beds are finite, which makes it harder to avoid releasing people before their sentences are completed.  Our goal is not to increase the number of jail beds, but to reduce the need for the jail beds we have.

Our county has recognized this issue for a long time. We’ve had a mental health subcommittee under our Local Public Safety Coordinating Council for more than a decade. We have a Mental Health Court, a jail counselor (something many counties larger than us don’t have), and have received a grant to establish mobile mental health crisis services. All of these are positive steps, but we need a lot more.

In October of 2016, the Lincoln County Commissioners adopted the Stepping Up resolution, which formally made us part of this national effort. As of this writing, 389 counties have adopted the resolution nationally, which represents more than a third of the total population in the United States. Sixteen of Oregon’s 36 counties are on board.

Giving people in the justice system better tools to deal with mental illness is one of our priorities. All members of the Sheriff’s Office and Community Corrections have completed Mental Health First Aid training, a one-day course designed to give everyone tools to recognize and assist in a mental health crisis. The Sheriff’s Office is also accelerating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for patrol and corrections deputies. CIT is a week-long course designed to give officers tools to de-escalate a crisis.

At the end of August, more than three dozen people involved in criminal justice and public safety, along with a number of community partners in treatment, social services, the faith community and peers, came together for a day and a half-long Sequential Intercept Mapping Exercise (SIM). Lincoln County was among 54 counties that applied to receive this workshop at no charge this year:  this is a testament to our level of community commitment and readiness.

At the SIM workshop, participants assessed our current system at six key points where people with behavioral health issues can encounter the justice system, identified our most critical gaps, and developed action plans to address the first four issues on that list.

The four priorities that emerged: establishing stronger pre-arrest diversions; setting up pre-trial services to provide support to people released pending trial and to hold them accountable; a more formalized re-entry system; and the integration of peer services at every stage of the process.

We’ve made amazing progress in just a year’s time, yet our work has just begun. We are, however, quite confident of achieving our goals. Why? The tremendous level of buy-in among partners and stakeholders is encourages us greatly. And, it’s been amazing, and sad, to hear from people who are aware of this work and tell us how much it is needed.

We have heard too many stories of families, careers and lives shattered by mental illness and addiction. Sometimes it’s a co-worker, sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes it’s a family member. Families and communities everywhere have suffered far too long.  It’s up to us as citizens to step up and finally end the cycle of damage and begin to heal.

 

 

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What is Profoundly Dysfunctional Parenting? And What Happens to the Kids?

 

Ethan Couch

Ethan Couch the “Affluenza” Teen, picked up in Mexico…

Following is an excerpt from the manuscript of my new book project, I Worry About the Kids.

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Profoundly Dysfunctional Parenting

When home life is profoundly dysfunctional bad things happen to parents, children, and loved ones. The ripple effects of toxic behavior created by post-traumatic symptoms can be suicide, school problems, and legal trouble.

“Affluenza” Teen, Ehtan Couch Detained in Mexico…

One recent example of a profoundly dysfunctional home is the case of a teenager from Texas who got off a little too easily after killing four people while driving drunk in 2013. The media used the word “affluenza” to describe the situation in which Ethan Couch, a teenager, was put on probation for this criminal offense. He was not held accountable. Couch is a child from a wealthy family who was given minimal direction and discipline in a home that revolved around too much alcohol, substance abuse, and no structure for the boy. Couch was allowed to drink at age 13 and drive a vehicle without a license. His dysfunctional parents partied as their principal activity and did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it. They were not concerned with parenting their son. Mental health issues were also evident. After Couch was released from jail, he and his mother conspired to escape to Mexico to avoid his probation. They were arrested in Puerto Vallarta and sent back to Texas.

This family desperately needed help, but was apparently in denial about the serious situation they were in. All his life, there had been no consequences for Couch’s bad decisions. From an young age, he had been headed for a life of crime because no one called him on his behavior and no one insisted he follow a healthy, sane path. Without effective parenting and mentoring, the pattern of dysfunction continues. Since their arrest in Mexico, the Couch family has demonstrated no remorse or accountability for their actions.

The scope of the mental health problem in kids under six years old is huge and dangerous for the families involved and for society. The following information comes from an infographic, “Are the Kids Alright?”
www.topcounselingschools.org

Youth-Counseling

Click the image to expand the view…

Mental illness is often thought of only as an adult concern. But half of mental illnesses begin to reveal themselves in childhood. Almost 15 million American children have some kind of diagnosable mental disorder, but only 20 percent of those children are identified and treated. The ripple effects include suicide, school problems, and legal trouble. Early identification and adequate treatment can quite literally be the difference between life and death for young people with mental illness.

Signs of mental illness in children aged 4 through 6 include bad behavior at daycare, preschool, or kindergarten; extreme disobedience or aggression; lots of temper tantrums all the time; hyperactivity outside of what other children are doing; excessive fear, worrying, or crying; persistent nightmares; and insomnia. Although children’s brains are still in a state of development, adequate treatment of mental disorders can help put a young person on a path to a healthy future. Options include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, group therapy, and medication.

Can’t we do more?

Steve2016

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)

Author Page, Here…

Surviving, Thriving, and Healing from Post-Traumatic Stress… My Personal Perspective…

 

Steve2016

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County, Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)

My personal perspective of living with post-traumatic stress…by Steve Sparks…

There were many years that the thought of my big brother getting hit in the head and knocked out by Dad triggered nightmares and uncontrolled emotions.  Although the nightmares rarely happen anymore, the events of that time stay with me.  The horrific nature of seeing my big brother almost killed by our father comes to me almost every day, sometimes more than once.  The never ending toxic turmoil and dysfunction in our home left me feeling numb and without empathy and compassion for others.  The worst of post-trauma conditions is becoming self-absorbed, caring only about your own interests and survival.  There is no world larger than self in the worst case of emotional challenge in life after trauma.  My thoughts were mostly of self-defense and survival each and every day followed by self-medication at night.  Self-talk was filled with trauma from the past and fear and trepidation of the future.  I couldn’t talk to others about my feelings because no one else could possibly get it or understand.  Mental health was, and still is to a large extent, a risky topic to explore with others, especially family members and those you work with in your professional life.  Living in the moment and feeling safe is a life-long work in progress.

It was always challenging for me to trust others without some sort of escape plan and defensive position.  My feeling was that survival was an all-consuming occupation.  Even as kids we would avoid being visible or exposed for fear of being criticized and punished for being “bad, stupid, and sinful”.   For many years spirituality was something connected to religion, not my soul.  I didn’t know how to love until my mid-30s. I never trusted anyone completely and with unconditional love until later in life.

I have learned to live with and mostly mitigate the fear of failure and excessive insecurity in these later years.  For most of my life as a child, through adulthood and midlife years, my fear of failure served me well with intense hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal as a professional.  But these persistent and less than healthy post-trauma stress symptoms did not work well for me at home when free time should be used for peace of mind and relaxation…a mindfulness existence is a gift.

At home in a safe environment, I was always on the move and could not sit still.  When the pain creeped in during weekends, or holidays and sleep deprived nights, I became angry with outbursts and rage at times. The absolute worst part of my behavior is acknowledging how it hurt others close to me, especially my family.  What I know from research and awareness now is the larger tragedy of post-trauma stress on children and families. The transferred emotional pain often appears as a secondary post-trauma affliction in loved ones on the receiving end who become care givers and must try to live with the toxic behaviors of a parent, partner, or mentor. The generational consequences become a much bigger burden on others in your immediate family and society as a whole. 

I drank alcohol for self-medication until age 55.  I got addicted to narcotic pain and sleep medications in later years due to arthritic pain and joint replacements.  The combination of alcohol and prescription medications was a very bad cocktail and almost took me down.  The grace of God and my wonderful, loving, compassionate and caring spouse saved my life!

Yes, I believe now that healing from a painful and traumatic past is possible.  But it takes discipline, focus, and lots of love from family and friends.  Healing for me is fueled by my passion to make a difference for others who suffer from debilitating mental health conditions.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff from Amazon.

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Click here to download for $3.99. “Saving your children, family and loved ones from inter-generational post-traumatic stress (PTS)…”

Survivors Guilt… “The guilt of being alive is heavy!” Orlando shooting survivor…

Orlando Survivor

Patience Carter, 20, is overcome with emotion after speaking to the media about the Pulse gay nightclub shooting from the Florida Hospital Orlando on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Raedle | Getty Images)

The guilt of being alive… click here for more…

 on June 14, 2016 at 4:30 PM, updated June 14, 2016 at 5:07 PM

“A Philadelphia woman who was wounded in the attack on a gay nightclub in Florida this weekend read a poem to reporters on Tuesday that expressed feelings of guilt about surviving the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Patience Carter, 20, was shot in the leg during the rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning and is expected to recover. Carter’s friend, 18-year-old Akyra Murray, and 48 other people did not survive.”

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Veterans who served in hard combat will tell you that survivors guilt is a lifetime of emotional pain. Following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story. 

“When Dad completed his shore patrol assignment in Hawaii in the summer of 1943, it had been almost two years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was able to return home briefly for a few weeks before returning to war in the Pacific.  He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (BMC) early in 1943 and subsequently assigned to the USS Belle Grove (LSD2).   He was on the commissioning crew of August 9, 1943. Dad was one of three Pearl Harbor survivors on the BG.  He was held in high esteem.   The BG would become one of the most decorated war ships in the Pacific Asiatic Theater serving in 7 campaigns, included the now famous Iwo Jima battle.  LSD means Landing Ship Dock.  These mighty ships were cleverly designed as a sea going ship repair station deployed in the campaigns to repair damaged ships at sea, land marines on the beach, and to recover the wounded and killed.

These men, heroes to be sure, who landed on the beaches of places like Iwo Jima, knew they were given a 50% or less chance of survival.  My dad carried marines onto shore and risked his life as well, but never felt he was a hero or was doing what his fellow marines had to do.  In other words, he wasn’t exactly on a suicide mission like the rest, so he as well as most sailors felt guilty most of the time for being alive.  This kind of guilt lives with men following the war for the rest of their lives.  It is one of the symptoms creating the conditions for PTSD.  Interesting but tragically, the feeling of guilt also lives with the abused spouses and children of surviving combat veterans.   Guilt is evident in most cases of PTSD whether from combat, surviving an accident where others were killed, or from living in a toxic family culture as a survivor of long term abuse.”

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Of all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, survivors guilt, stacks up as being one of the worst nightmares, leading to chronic depression, anxiety, and anger.  When a survivor, as your loved one or friend, has a panic attack or an outburst of anger, please be sensitive and provide a calming response.  The behaviors of survivors reflect a profound and almost never ending grieving process that can linger for a lifetime.  It takes significant awareness, love, empathy, and compassion on the part of family members and friends to help a trauma survivor through a severe episode of extreme guilt that is hidden in the soul and mind.  Survivors suffer from moral injury and must grieve.  Loved ones can help by being extra sensitive to the circumstances and needs of those who suffer from survivors guilt.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2.  Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff.

Steve2016

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)

SonsStory

Reconciliation: A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks… Click the highlighted text to order…

PTSD and Post Trauma Growth History… WWI “Shell Shock” Explored by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.

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A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway…click image for larger view…

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms… Quoting…click here for more…

“A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.”

“Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway made it clear that Henry and his comrades were suffering mentally and physically from the hardships of war. He did so even before knowledge of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder was common. “During World War I, the shell shock theory expressed the notion of predisposition, weakened reactive capacities, and a stunned nervous system and mind. Soldiers exhibited stupor, irritability, trembling, traumatic dreams, exaggerated startle response with agitation and conversion reactions.”[21] Church notes that “Psychological studies were still in their infancy before World War I.”

Hemingway’s Haunts… Quoting…click here for more…

“Author Ernest Hemingway embraced local nature and nightspots with a vigor matched only by his fictional and largely autobiographical character Nick Adams. As Adams lived in Michigan’s wilderness, Hemingway meandered the meadows of Sun Valley and the Big Wood RiverHemingway’s time in Sun Valley began in 1939 when he came to the area after Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman invited Hemingway and other celebrities to Sun Valley. In the fall of 1939, he finished his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. He worked on it while staying in suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.”

Click here for Hemingway Memorial YouTube clip…

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My inspiration for writing often comes while exploring the scenic and spiritual mountain regions of the west, and in living on the stunning coast of Oregon near Depoe Bay.  We picked Sun Valley for a week of adventure and relaxation this spring.  May is a transition month in Sun Valley.  The changing weather has provided days of some sun, rain, and snow flurries with temperatures ranging from the lower 30’s at night to the mid 70’s during the day.  On this day, we found a hike that was well suited for getting great exercise, while recognizing some limitations that come with bodies that do not perform the same way as in our younger years.

The hike we selected was a couple of miles outside of Ketchum, Idaho on the Corral Creek Trail, a 5 mile round trip.  At the beginning of our hike we came upon a memorial to Ernest Hemingway, where we stopped and reflected a moment and took a couple of pictures. Hemingway’s story and spirit is very much alive in Sun Valley, and inspired me to dig deeper into his life in Ketchum.  Ernest Hemingway took his own life in this beautiful valley during the summer of 1961 at the early age of 61, two weeks before his 62nd birthday.  His young adult life included significant exposure to combat as an ambulance driver in WWI Italian campaign and civilian journalist in WWII. Hemingway observed and wrote about the horrific human suffering and carnage of war, including the apparent psychological and physical wounds.    WWI was the beginning of the post-traumatic stress symptoms conversation and long before research connected the dots with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis of the post Vietnam era.

My own research and writing since 2010 shows post-traumatic stress symptoms in the mix way back to the Civil War when the term Soldiers Heart (click here for PTSD history) was used to describe the emotional behaviors of combat veterans and families of that time.  Shell Shock was used to describe the psychological and troublesome emotional behaviors during WWI.  In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of ‘shell shock’ was replaced by that of combat stress reaction, and battle fatigue, a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare and bombardment.  The U.S. Navy used ‘battle fatigue’ as an official way to diagnose my father during and after his severe exposure to combat during WWII in the Pacific Theater.  There are even indications of the trauma of war and the challenges of warriors coming home from the horrors of battle during the time of Odyssey…Coming Home… click here for more…

There you have it; PTSD is not new.  History shows that mankind struggled for centuries since the time of Troy from post-traumatic stress.  Tragically, mankind assimilated post-trauma conditions into society as an invisible wound and misunderstood infliction that was buried from one generation to the next.  We have been stuck with the stigma of mental health challenges for so long that eradicating the generational curse might take several generations.  My view supports vigilance and consistent awareness, especially during early childhood.  We can save lives right now by taking steps in our own communities to end mental health stigma.  Do not hesitate, start the conversation today!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff…

Steve2016

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)

 

 

 

 

Post-Trauma Growth Awareness Month of June… My own journey of healing…

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“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma. If the reactions don’t go away over time or disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.”

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Returning home from war… click this link…

What is PTSD?   National Center for PTSD June 2016

The goal of my book and this blog since the beginning has been to raise awareness of PTSD.  I spent the first 64 years of my life not knowing about moral injury and combat stress, especially how it affects the families of warriors returning home.  During my childhood we lived in a chaotic and abusive home.  Even after leaving home, it appeared convenient to push all the bad stuff under the rug and move on. For so many years there was a knot in my stomach that never went away.  I always felt troubled emotionally, but never understood why… I used intense exercise, adventure, and my professional life to channel all this hyper-vigilance and anxiety.  My home life was the most challenging when there was a little free time on my hands.  With the help of my courageous and devoted wife I took small steps over the years to rid myself of anxiety and depression, but never knew or understood the root cause.  It was following retirement that, with continued support from loved ones and friends, it became more urgent to revisit my childhood and early adulthood to put my own life experiences in perspective.

Since researching and publishing my book in November 2011, my life has been transformed.  I no longer have a knot in my stomach and there is  very little anger left in my heart.  Much of my time, in these joyful later years in life, is spent helping others and making a difference in my community as a major part of my own journey of healing.  It is in the spirit of my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, and writing this blog daily that my goal is to help others take the first step toward healing by becoming aware of moral injury and PTSD.  Please take some quality time this month and learn more about PTSD.  Then start your own conversation with others and perhaps your own journey of healing.  It is not easy, and continues to be a work in progress.  For me, it has been worth all the sweat equity and time ten fold to finally have peace of mind.  My life has been transformed and each day is now a blessing and full of promise for the future…

Be well and help others who suffer from post-trauma stress, especially the children and families who are the caregivers of our heroes both military and 1st responders.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…

P.S. Take a look at these helpful ideas below from the National Center for PTSD.

Do you think treatment is only for people with extreme problems? Have you ever felt that you just don’t have time for treatment with all the other things in your life? The truth is that trauma can happen to anyone, and getting help is taking a step forward, not weakness. Making PTSD treatment a priority will help you get back control of your life.
This week’s step challenges you to think about all the benefits of getting help for PTSD, supporting someone in treatment, or learning how to offer the best care for your clients.

  • Meet Veterans who faced PTSD and turned their lives around at AboutFace.
  • VA providers can use the VA PTSD Consultation Program to get peer support for clinical practice, assessment, improving care, or programmatic issues.

Take the Step: Explore the options.

What can you do if you need help for PTSD? Whether you are learning to manage your own symptoms or you are a caregiver looking for resources, you have options. The steps you take to get care should be the ones that are best for you.
This week’s step gives you information about options for care and support resources to help you make the best choices for yourself or your clients.