This Book Is Changing The Conversation Around Post-Traumatic Stress

news

Where, exactly, is the intersection between religious faith and good science? Does it even exist? And might both be used by today’s military to build more resilient warriors?


America’s military is facing a very public mental health crisis. Many veterans view this crisis as a direct result of a flawed Veterans Affairs system and an uncaring American public. In turn, the VA points to abysmal therapy completion rates, piles more money into the budget, and continues serving up a top-down approach to care that is statistically ineffective. Public service announcements about veteran suicide grow America’s concern about the mental and emotional stability of its veterans.

In her bold, gripping new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance,” U.S. Marine veteran Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas examines the virtues and flaws of the American military’s cultural mandates for strength and invulnerability. She argues that treatment for mental health issues requires a disempowerment narrative that is starkly at odds with our military’s cultural values. Treatment may be part of the solution, she says, but today’s military culture does not allow for it to be the complete answer.

What if, she suggests, the military developed and offered mental fitness training programs that shifted the paradigm from treatment to resilience?

A strengths-based approach, Thomas notes, would be more likely to resonate with modern-day warriors who embrace intensity, shared hardship, and challenge. Today’s service members voluntarily joined the military during wartime; difficult transformation and growth are part of our DNA.

“The research is clear,” writes Thomas. “We need to focus on resilience as something that can be learned and grown before combat and transition are experienced. Post-traumatic stress and depression must be reframed as normal, recoverable conditions. When we talk about them as disorders, we give them an inaccurate air of permanence.”

Moving with fluidity between veteran narratives and current research, Thomas unpacks three evidence-based components of resilience: social support, self-care, and spirituality.

“Social support is vital to our ability to grow through traumas,” says Thomas. “It is a known contributor to physical health and longevity. Having a trusted tribe around you lowers stress.”

The author points to Team Red, White, & Blue, a veteran fitness organization, as one example of a ready-made tribe offering modern-day warriors a valuable connection to other veterans and civilians.

(Left to right) U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Kate Hendricks Thomas stands with Capt. Abigail Steinke and 1st Lt. Gideon Grisset at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

In a culture where pain is weakness leaving the body, the concept of self-care, which may include a balanced training calendar along with mindful eating and thinking, may seem especially alien, says Thomas.

However, self-care is ultimately (and perhaps counterintuitively) a way to increase physical and mental performance, she notes. It provides opportunities for self-mastery that build our capacity to handle future stressors more effectively.

Finally, Thomas tackles what is perhaps the most controversial chapter in her book — the chapter on faith.

“There is tremendous personal utility and some health benefit to personal, nonorganized spiritual practices,” writes Thomas. “However, the majority of religion and health science shows maximum benefit for people involved in organized religious communities.”

Thomas seems prepared to cater to skeptics. Readers who prefer to trade on hard facts over faith will appreciate her emphasis on multiple studies that overwhelmingly demonstrate how affiliation with an organized religion correlates positively to practical and statistical outcomes.

“Much like exercise, religion offers true protective effects against heart disease, depression, and even cognitive decline,” Thomas writes. “Religiosity is correlated positively with improved mental and physical well-being, and is important for people coping with trauma. How intensely involved a person is in their faith community strengthens the positive impact it can have.”

The brain’s response differs dramatically when engaged in mediation or prayer, Thomas notes. During mediation, the body’s stress response is calmed. In attentive prayer to a transcendent God, not only is the body’s stress response calmed, but the regions of the brain involved in love and relationship light up.

Thomas cites multiple studies to support the well-established connection between faith and wellness, but concludes this way: “The question of God’s existence and interest in our wellness cannot be answered by statistics. Belief is too personal for that and we must come to our own conclusions.”

The book ends with an emphasis on the value of peer leadership, community engagement, and active duty training in teaching and testing resilience.

Ultimately, “Brave, Strong, True” is a rousing challenge to health, packed with practical principles, and written for those of us weary of the victim narrative and looking for a more powerful way forward.

“Brave, Strong, True” (Innovo Publishing, 2015) is available for purchase.

AP photo by Steven Senne
(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Alexandria Crawford)

A new survey of thousands of military families released on Wednesday paints a negative picture of privatized military housing, to say the least.

The Military Family Advisory Network surveyed 15,901 adults at 160 locations around the country who are either currently living in privatized military housing, or had lived in privatized housing within the last three years. One of the report's primary takeaways can be summarized in two lines: "Most responses, 93 percent, came from residents living in housing managed by six companies. None of them had average satisfaction rates at or above neutral."

Those six companies are Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty, Hunt, Lendlease/Winn, Corvias, and Michaels.

What's behind these responses? MFAN points to the "culture of resilience" found in the military community for why military families may be downplaying the severity of their situations, or putting up with subpar conditions.

"[Military] families will try to manage grim living conditions without complaint," MFAN says in its report. "The norm of managing through challenges, no matter their severity, is deeply established in military family life."

Read More Show Less

The F-35 Joint Strike Program may be the most expensive weapons program in modern military history, but it looks as though the new border wall is giving the beleaguered aircraft a run for its money.

Read More Show Less

EGLIN AFB — With gratitude for its seven years at Eglin and enthusiasm for the future in California, the Navy's first F-35C strike fighter squadron furled its flag in a Thursday morning ceremony.

The F-35C is the "carrier variant" version of the F-35 stealth fighter jet, designed specifically to operate from aircraft carriers.

"Today, we turn into the wind and launch on an aggressive path to deploy the F-35C," said Navy Capt. Max G. McCoy, commander of the Joint Strike Fighter Wing.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Amy Bushatz originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT -- Loose lips sink ships, but do they reveal too much about the hugely anticipated "Top Gun" sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," filmed onboard in February?

Not on this carrier, they don't. Although sailors here dropped a few hints about spotting movie stars around the ship as it was docked in San Diego for the film shoot, no cats — or Tomcats — were let out of the bag.

"I can't talk about that," said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, who commands the Roosevelt.

Read More Show Less
(British Ministry of Defense)

Robots in the air, on the ocean surface and on the ground guarded British Royal Marines as they stormed a beach during an important April 2019 war game.

The ground robot, in particular, is a new capability for the Royal Marines. The gun- and rocket-armed, tank-like unmanned ground vehicle could boost the naval branch's firepower while helping to keep human beings out of harm's way.

Alpha Company of the Royal Marines' 40 Commando and their robot guardians stormed a beach in Cornwall in southwest England as part of Exercise Commando Warrior. The Royal Marines' 1 Assault Group supported the naval infantry.

Read More Show Less