HOPE AND HEALING AFTER TRAUMA

UNCOVERING THE VALUE OF PEER-TO-PEER TREATMENT WITH ANALYTICS

Camp Hope representatives at a recent golf event.

Ryan Rogers, President, PTSD Foundation of America

At Camp Hope, June is no different than any other month. While June is PTSD awareness month, that’s the focus every day at this residential facility for military veterans run by the PTSD Foundation of America.

In fact, when you hear “post-traumatic stress disorder,” your first thought is probably of a soldier returning from combat. Yet the variety of trauma that leads to PTSD is wider than you might think: Sexual assault, childhood abuse, racial violence, personal tragedy – the list goes on. And more than twice as many women suffer from PTSD as men.

“I think it was a blessing that society could understand PTSD in terms of the military space – because it allowed compassion,” says Wendy Broughton, Chief Operating Officer of Mental Health Systems, a nonprofit that provides care to underserved communities. “These are people. This is your neighbor. These are the people you work with.”

By exploring new avenues of collecting and using data, the foundation is hoping to innovate in a way that could mean better treatment not just for the residents of Camp Hope but for trauma victims from all walks of life.

“It’s something new, something innovative, so we’re going to get some pushback on that, but I’m anticipating that, and that’s OK,” says PTSD Foundation President Ryan Rogers. “My hope is for this data to be used to help save lives outside of our organization as well, because this issue is much bigger than just us as an organization.”

WHO SUFFERS FROM PTSD?

Wendy Broughton, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health Systems

David Daugherty, Area Manager, PTSD Foundation of America

CAN DATA HELP US SEE WHAT WE ‘KNOW’?

More than 1,500 veterans since 2012 have come through Camp Hope’s intensive residential program, which provides comprehensive peer support and a safe space for victims of trauma and post-traumatic stress to heal.

The peer-to-peer component is more challenging to quantify than other types of treatment, and the foundation is hoping that its efforts to change how it approaches data will help shine a light on it.

“There really isn’t very much research at all about its efficacy, but at a human level, people just know,” says David Daugherty, an area manager for the foundation who initiated the project. “If you have a problem, the first person you call is someone you trust.”

Not surprisingly, that instinct rings true for anyone who has suffered from trauma, which is why even those treating civilians for PTSD and other mental health issues are interested in validating peer-counseling’s value.

“I don’t know anyone who has gone through a trauma who wants to talk to a lab coat,” Broughton says. “You want someone who understands it. It’s really nice when someone who is struggling or suffering can walk into a place and see themselves. Because they’re not going to feel stigma or judgment. They’re more apt to embrace help and seek help. There’s a lot of value in that.”

The Camp Hope staff treats combat veterans suffering from PTSD.

Camp hope staff members gather in prayer.

SIX QUESTIONS, LIMITLESS ANSWERS

Using data to validate the peer-to-peer aspect of Camp Hope’s whole-person care approach is actually the second phase of the project.

Step one was to figure out how to assess veterans’ suicidality more comprehensively than has traditionally been done. Typical assessments make it hard to account for change over time because they result in a very limited scale of risk – think low, medium or high. That, or they would require such a vast number of questions that it might discourage people from completing it accurately.

So the PTSD Foundation worked with SAS to develop a new method that keeps the assessment questionnaire short and simple enough to be approachable for trauma victims, yet provides far more detailed insights about a person’s risk of suicide once the data is analyzed.

By looking at the correlations in the data between all the various mental health challenges – depression, anger, substance abuse and more – that are often associated with PTSD, the foundation gets a clearer picture of an individual veteran’s suicide risk.

The reimagined approach lets them accomplish with six questions covering 16 domains what might otherwise require asking 450 questions and makes it possible to measure progress – or regression – as veterans go through the different phases of the program.

Being able to dive into the data in this way with the help of volunteers from SAS who are also military veterans, the foundation can better ensure that no one graduates the program prematurely and everyone gets the help they need.

                                       
This decision tree shows how the interactions between multiple mental health challenges can provide a clearer perspective of a person’s overall well-being.

Plus, it’s these insights that could lead to the foundation’s success stories going beyond the anecdotal and having a wider application.

“The majority of clinical interventions want EVPs – evidence-based practices,” Rogers says. “In order for any organization to grab something that works, it’s not enough to say, ‘Hey, look at these 10 individuals. They’re alive because of what we’re doing.’ Where is the data that supports the fact that these 10 individuals are alive and functioning well because of the interventions?”

The PTSD Foundation is confident that once its data-driven approach goes beyond Camp Hope, anyone struggling to deal with trauma – from other military veterans to the average person suffering in silence – will get the same type of life-changing care.

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