On-campus PTSD support group in the works

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Campus support groups for veteran students and non-veteran students affected by post-traumatic stress disorder facilitates peer connections and experience sharing on how to cope. 

An on-campus PTSD group is in the process of being formed at Dixie State University because of a recognized need on campus in not only combat veterans, but in non-veteran students who have also experienced traumatic events.

To show support for students on campus who suffer from PTSD, I-Shan Yang, assistant professor of psychology, is in the process of forming a support group. 

PTSD comes as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. Constant effort of trying to avoid mental images or flashbacks are criteria to help diagnose PTSD, Yang said.

The need for a PTSD support group was determined because of events that happened in a classroom setting where combat veterans were triggered, Yang said. 

Eva Beatty, a licensed clinical social worker, and Susan Whiting, a clinical mental health counselor for the DSU Health and Wellness Center, collectively said in an email that a trigger, or a sudden symptom of PTSD, may be a response to external or internal stimuli.

“We hope this [group] will be a support for them [and] to help them cope with the stress of school, on top of [the stress of PTSD] they already have,” Yang said. 

Initially, Yang thought she would have more interest from veterans, but she has been contacted more by non-veteran students.

To respect the differences in types of PTSD and how group members can relate and show support, Yang said she will most likely have to separate support groups — one for veterans and one for those affected by non-specific trauma.

“[Group therapy offers] skill-based information that individuals can implement for a number of life issues,” Beatty and Whiting said.

Yang does a screening process for applicants to make sure the group setting is appropriate, she said. Individual therapy might be a better option for some applicants.

Through a weekly group meeting, Yang said participants will be able to share experiences in coping with PTSD and how to cope with the anxiety and depression that typically accompanies it. 

“A main focus for this is just to know there are people out there that share a similar experience that you do,” Yang said. “This peer connection is usually very helpful.”

To be an effective support group, Beatty and Whiting said, the focus should be on solutions rather than problems.

“Group therapy also provides validation and support from individuals who may have experienced similar symptoms,” Beatty and Whiting said. 

Steve Roberts, DSU veterans compliance coordinator, said that about 2 percent of the student body on campus are veterans, which makes them a minority on campus.

Sometimes veterans feel discriminated against in a college setting, Roberts said, so being accepting and understanding helps them.

“Veterans seem to feel comfortable with other veterans because of the age and also the culture, [but] I am not saying they would feel outcast if there were others [in the group,]” Roberts said.  

Roberts said there is a veterans center in St. George that has readjustment counseling, and he has also referred veteran students to the DSU Health and Wellness Center. 

Yang, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has worked with clients in the past who have PTSD, and this is why she  was contacted to facilitate the group sessions, she said.

“PTSD [is] difficult to go through, and it’s going to be a life-long journey,” Yang said. “Being able to find a support is important.”

Yang said she would like to have to group going by the end of the semester, but it will most likely start at the beginning of spring semester.

For more information on the support groups, contact Yang at 435-879-4627 or [email protected], DSU Health and Wellness Center at 435-652-7756, or the St. George Veterans Center readjustment counseling services at 435-673-4494.