Flashbacks, uncontrollable nerves and severe bouts of depression. All three feelings may be part of daily reality if one is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, on behalf of Sigma Theta Tau of Radford University, Dr. Virginia Burggraf welcomed Dr. April A. Gerlock, PhD and ARNP, Clinical Associate Professor at University of Washington School of Nursing, to Radford to speak about the connections between PTSD and intimate partner violence.
According to a new RAND Corporation study, statistically, 1 out of 5 men and women returning from active military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD which in turn, prevents them from living their lives to the fullest.
The effects of the disorder can have devastating consequences, if left untreated.
Gerlock knows this all too well. For over 30 years, Gerlock has worked with veterans and their families to improve their home lives and educate them on the issues surrounding PTSD.
Her primary goal is to raise awareness that a person suffering from PTSD may also have intimate partner violence, where there is physical, sexual, or psychological harm being inflicted by one partner onto another.
“People need to understand that both conditions may be present at the same time,” said Gerlock. “Part of it is education. There needs to be education on multiple levels. Education at community gatherings, newspaper articles, education through people’s faith organizations so that people understand that these conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder, is a real condition and can be very serious. For post-traumatic stress disorder, there is lots of really good treatment available. It’s a matter of trying to connect the individual with the resources available, and in which case it’s highly effective.”
“When it comes to intimate partner violence, there is a whole new set of stigmas,” said Gerlock. “Working with men who are intimately violent, that also have PTSD, they would rather be labeled with PTSD than as [a] domestic violence perpetrator. So when it comes to stigma, and being receptive to treatment, they would rather be identified as [having] PTSD. What I really struggled with over the years, is having treatments available for PTSD, but also for people who are intimately violent.”
The issue of intimate partner violence is one far too familiar to Mary Beth Pulsifer, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley.
The Center, which opened in 1977 and is located in Radford, was the first domestic violence program to open its doors in Virginia. According to Pulsifer, who has nearly two decades of service to the organization, the Center is focusing mainly on preventing domestic violence in the first place.
When it comes to speaking up or staying silent on the issue, Pulsifer has guiding words.
“Injury is not always physical. Trauma is not always physical,” said Pulsifer. “There are a lot of reasons why people remain silent – fear of being believed, fear of being blamed.
You want people to get out safely, get out successfully.”
The main objectives in raising awareness for the issues of PTSD and intimate partner violence are to reduce the shame from all involved parties in seeking help and counseling, and help people understand that these situations are common. “Veteran to veteran connections are very helpful. It’s also extremely important to educate family members of veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Gerlock.
“The clock is ticking, and the longer they put off getting some help or availing themselves to resources, the more complex or sometimes worse the situation gets. It’s better to get in and access some resources and get some help earlier on rather than later. Once they are actually receiving resources, the stigma starts to lift because they are with other people in the same situations.”
“When it comes to intimate partner violence victims, there’s not only a stigma but also the issue of the batterer, whoever is hurting and abusing them, interfering with their access to resources, so you have both of those things to deal with.”
Sophomore Adie Rehfuss, who attended the event said, “I thought the event was really helpful. I’m a social work major so I learned a lot.”