One of the main goals of Almost Sunrise Impact Campaign is to create more access to the kinds of non-medicalized therapies that seem to be one of the only or effective ways – so far – to address the complexity of a condition like Moral Injury.
ALMOST SUNRISE SPOTLIGHTS THE NEED FOR EFFECTUAL TREATMENTS AND APPROACHES TO MORAL INJURY
The traditional medicalization approach
Mental health professionals are concerned by the failure of traditional institutional efforts to make a dent in the suicide rate, including the failure of psychiatric drugs to reach the core of the problem. Whereas PTSD is a diagnosable fear disorder in response to specific trauma, Moral Injury is not a mental illness. While governments and policy makers are slowly acknowledging this complex condition, it remains an uphill battle for recognition because it doesn’t fit neatly into the medical diagnostic and treatment model.
From 2005 to 2011, as suicide rates rose, the Department of Defense increased its prescription of psychiatric drugs by nearly seven times (a rate 30 times faster than the increase among the civilian population).
Although the realities of post-traumatic stress disorder are better understood than ever before, experts say some war veterans are misdiagnosed and may instead be suffering from a complex spiritual wound – a “Moral Injury”.
Hope in holistic treatments
BREATHING-BASED MEDITATION TECHNIQUES
Since standard drug-based treatment has failed to promote healing for those suffering from traumas experienced in the war, several studies are pointing to the effectiveness of natural and alternative methods as a form of therapy.
Among the non-institutional approaches to healing that are quietly emerging as beacons of hope for veterans is the breathing meditation, a practice that is on the rise, and which we explore in ALMOST SUNRISE through the story of our main characters, who learn to meditate while on their cross-country search for healing.
“Warriors are extraordinary human beings. After a long deployment of holding their breath in combat, they no longer know how to breathe with ease in their civilian life. Trained for war, they were never trained for peace.” – Tom Voss (veteranstrek.org).
Yoga-based breathing exercises have been shown to decrease stress, boost immune function (probably as a result of decreased stress), reduce anxiety, depression and blood pressure, and benefit pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. In particular, breathing practices such as Power Breath (www.PWHT.org), by relaxing the body, may help with the processing of traumatic experiences.
Power Breath Meditation Workshop
Read More about Project Welcome Home Troops and the Power Breath Meditation Workshop
CAN THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF BREATHING MEDITATION LAST?
According to Stanford research published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, breathing meditation is a powerful ally for military veterans recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Emma Seppala, associate director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, is the lead author of the article.
Seppala says, “This is the first randomized controlled study on a form of meditation or yoga for veterans with PTSD, that has shown such long-term, lasting effects.”
Seppala and her colleagues examined 21 American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they participated in a breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya (Power Breath). The 21 participants met for three-hour sessions over seven days. Researchers measured eye-blink responses to loud noises, respiration rates and self-reported descriptions of participants’ PTSD symptoms. Assessments were taken at four intervals—before, during, on month later and one year after treatment. One year after the study, the participants PTSD scores still remained low, suggesting that there had been long-lasting improvement. “It’s unusual to find the benefits of a very short intervention (still) lasting one year later,” she said. This research is features in Seppala’s book: The Happiness Track (http://www.emmaseppala.com/)
Veteran Tom Voss practices yoga techniques to help combat stress. A Stanford scholar has found that breathing-based meditation dramatically reduces PTSD in veterans.
The Power Of Nature
The power of being in contact with nature is another holistic health care approach that has gained recognition from both “empirical research and individuals who are realizing the importance of nature’s contact in their lives” (Stephanie Westlund, Author of Field Exercises).
For veterans and active duty soldiers, “any kind of nature exposure will be helpful”, says Edward Tick in War and Soul: Healing our nation’s veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Anthony and Tom on the backroads of Colorado.
Almost Sunrise emerged from the idea of Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss to walk from Milwaukee, WI to Los Angeles, CA. Rather than the goal to walk the 2,700 mile distance, they wanted to use the time in the trek to reflect on their lives, changes, and issues that have developed since their experiences in Iraq.
“Being out in nature, feeling the breeze, listening to the sounds… it gives you perspective. And I think that is the one thing veterans lose that time in nature can bring back very easily.” – Anthony Anderson
Read more: www.veteranstrek.org
Wally and Linda greet Anthony and Tom as they arrive in Manchester, IA during the trek.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY AND COMPASSION
Hope is also increasingly being found in the efforts that emphasize the role of community and its potential for healing power in helping vets re-connect with themselves and their loved ones. Throughout the trek, Anderson and Voss met hundreds of people across the country who reached out and cared for them as they passed through their communities. They celebrated their arrival, invited them for food and a comfortable place to sleep; opening their homes and their lives to them.
“When you’re at war, you can’t really trust a lot of people. Meeting all these new people on the trek, has helped me restore my faith in people.” – Anthony Anderson
Many veterans are also finding other alternative therapies to be effective in their healing process. Moving from more traditional treatments such as pharmaceutical and psychotherapy, to a more holistic approach including martial arts, physical exercise, writing, volunteering, farming, equine-therapy, music and arts, and caring for animals. Learn more in the Resources sections.
VETERANS WELLNESS KITS
We developed these powerful kits with the help of Dr. Katinka Hooyer and our partner organizations. They will allow advocates, clinicians, and veterans themselves to host screenings, guide powerful discussions and move together towards more hopeful paths of healing.
BECOME AN ADVOCATE: You or your organization can support veterans and the campaign by donating these kits to veterans and organizations in your community. Contact us to find out how you can make a difference right now.
Components of Wellness kit includes:
- Almost Sunrise film
- Modular video content on Moral Injury
- Guide to holistic healthcare practices
- Research booklet on science behind alternative therapies
- Guided meditations
- “Dear Veteran” Community Art Project
- Veteran and Family Resources
- Tracings of Trauma Art Therapy Project
- Veterans Trek guide
- Discussion materials, curated for healthcare providers and veterans
- Videos of veterans voices, to de-stigmatize seeking mental health care
- Veterans Suicide Warning Signs and Resources
A comprehensive list of resources for veterans, family-member and civilians is forthcoming.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Mind fitness: Joel Levey and Michelle Levey
Yoga For Warriors: Basic Training in Strength, Resilience and Peace of Mind by Beryl Bender Birch (Give Back Yoga Foundation).
Field Exercises: How Veterans Are Healing Themselves through Farming and Outdoor Activities by Stephanie Westlund