For the millions who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms can be overwhelming, but a nonprofit that works in Africa with ties to West Virginia has helped thousands of people improve function and return to their lives.
PTSD Relief Now, the nonprofit organization that runs the African PTSD Relief Project, seeks funding for and develops strategies to help those suffering from PTSD learn coping strategies. The organization is a proponent of transcendental meditation in treating the disorder, an approach David Shapiro, a board member for PTSD Relief Now who lives in Romney, said has shown promising results for sufferers in both studies and in the field.
“With the approach we’re using, there are no side effects,” he said. “It’s like a light switch. Once the person is able to settle down, they’re not turbulent — there’s nothing complex about it.”
Transcendental meditation, a type of mediation first introduced in India in the 1950s, is a widely used method for anxiety relief and stress reduction, and PTSD, as an often severe anxiety disorder, can be alleviated by its regular practice, according to Shapiro.
Studies have shown improvement in those who practice meditation with PTSD — a 1981 study of Vietnam Veterans published in the scientific journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicated that veterans who practiced transcendental meditation improved over another group engaged only in psychotherapy.
According to Shapiro, while wartime experiences are a commonly recognized factor in PTSD, any traumatic event can trigger symptoms of the disorder, which range from irritability and hostility to self-destructive behavior and social isolation.
“Any overwhelmingly traumatic event can trigger PTSD,” he said. “It could be watching a parent die or witnessing a car crash. They’re even saying now that watching enough media with violent themes may cause it. It’s a massive problem in South Africa. We had a school where roughly 80 percent of the girls had been sexually abused, and roughly 30 to 40 percent had PTSD. Any huge trauma can create PTSD.”
More than a dozen African countries have been in war in the last several years, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Africans with PTSD, Shapiro said. African PTSD Relief estimates that in war-torn areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan, nearly 50 percent of the population is estimated to suffer from PTSD.
“Our organization is all over Africa,” he said. “In the U.S., the David Lynch Foundation has been working in inner-city schools, and while they don’t call it PTSD relief, the result is that much of the San Francisco school population is in a transcendental meditation program. Much of the Los Angeles County school system, as well ... TM is taught the same way the world over. There are more than 1 million children in 13 countries under the auspices of the Catholic Church who have signed an agreement to learn TM. Part of it is for PTSD, but the other part is the other benefits — students are less stressed, more productive and happier.”
Shapiro said that although his organization primarily works in Africa, it has sister organizations in the U.S. that work to teach transcendental meditation, and he believes the technique could be an effective tool for many West Virginians who may also suffer from PTSD or anxiety, even if they’re undergoing other therapies for the disorder.
“This is one tool; in many cases, it’s important to work with them together,” he said. “This is one thing that works along with one’s life.”
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