During the last week of May I blogged about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pointed to some of the interesting new information that has turned up on this topic over the last few years. As luck would have it, yesterday—barely two weeks later—the United States Senate passed a resolution naming June as PTSD Awareness Month.
I must say this is a gratifying development. As someone who isn’t generally recognized as the poster-child for punctuality, I find myself in the unusual position of having shown up impressively early to an event. In case you’re wondering whether there’s anything left to say after my rather lengthy May post on the topic, however, let me assure you there is plenty. That’s why we need a whole month to raise awareness.
As a side note, it should be understood that this is not simply an American effort, despite the Senate resolution. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) is also honoring PTSD Awareness month, right alongside the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and the National Center for PTSD (which is a division of the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs).
All of that said, this post isn’t going to focus on the trauma side of PTSD. Instead, it seems appropriate to talk about resilience: that quality that helps us cope with crisis and heal after trauma. This is all the more appropriate because of the fortunate timing of a couple of recent studies.
Okay, so we know that being able to fit our experiences into a coherent narrative helps us cope with all kinds of negative events. Well, one of the best ways to construct that narrative seems to be along the lines of seeing a positive outcome from the experience, as difficult as that task may seem. However, a study from current issue of the journal Psychological Trauma published by the APA’s Division 56 points to an interesting silver lining for people who have experienced trauma: they tend to be more prosocial and perceive more meaning in their life—even as they have more PTSD symptoms. Their traumatic experiences actually lead them to care for and help others more than those who haven’t experienced trauma.
In fact, wrote the researchers, when people said their volunteer work was related to a life experience, the most common motivations were negative life events. . . . (e.g., ‘My mother was hit and badly injured by a drunk driver. Ever since I have volunteered for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.’)”
“Our findings,” they wrote, “consistently indicate that trauma exposure is positively associated with engaging in prosocial [helping] behavior. Individuals who reported experiencing more traumatic events in their lifetime reported engaging in more helping behaviors during a 2-week period and more volunteer activities annually than those who had experienced fewer traumas.”
Now, that seems like good fodder for constructing a positive narrative. It’s the essence of post-traumatic growth. And to take it a step further, that extra helping behavior comes with a payback: helping others helps us. We know this on a gut level, but here’s confirmation in case it—er—helps:
Humans are happier when they do the right thing; it also helps them overcome difficulties
Communities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by University of British Columbia researcher John Helliwell and colleagues. Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social‘ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. The paper is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.
How does the social fabric of a community or nation affect its capacity to deal with crises and to develop resources that maintain and improve people’s happiness during those difficult times?
(Full story . . . )
If you click through to the article you’ll get half of the answer to that question. But the other half may be found in an old study of a community of Italian immigrants in Roseto, Pennsylvania. I think we’ll talk about that in a future post.