Every November 11th, we pay respect to those in uniform who have fought and died for our country. In Canada, it is estimated that up to 10% of war veterans, including peacekeeping forces, will experience a chronic condition known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an emotional response to frightening or dangerous experiences. For some, it can last months or years, severely impacting their lives.
And for some, it can even be fatal.
“Mental Health is two words that strike fear and terror in many human beings on so many different levels. Mental Health has so many meanings that may be different to each and every one of us. If I could fulfill a wish it would be this. I would ask that if mental health of any kind enters your life that you meet it with compassion, understanding, and with an open heart and mind. In doing this you can’t go wrong!”
Kelly Fitzsimmons, Retired (30 years) OPP Sgt
PTSD usually appears within three months of the event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear for years. Common symptoms can include:
- re-experiencing the traumatic event over and over
- having recurring nightmares
- experiencing unwanted, disturbing memories of the event
- acting or feeling as if the event is happening again
- feeling upset when reminded of the event
- staying away from activities, places or people that are reminders of the traumatic experience
- avoiding friends and family
- losing interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
- experiencing difficulty having loving feelings
- being unable to feel pleasure
- constantly worrying
- having a hard time concentrating
- getting angry easily
- having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- fearing harm from others
- experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
- having fears of dying
Risk factors for PTSD include:
- experiencing dangerous events and trauma in the past
- having a history of mental health or substance use problems
- feeling helplessness or extreme fear
- having a small support system after the traumatic event
- feeling guilt, shame or responsibility for the event or its outcome
- experiencing additional stress after the event (e.g. loss of a loved one, pain and injury, loss of a job or home).
Protective factors that may reduce the risk of developing PTSD include:
- having support from other people, such as friends and family
- participating in a support group after a traumatic event
- feeling confident about one’s own actions regarding the event
- having a coping strategy or a way of getting through the traumatic event
- being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.
Having support following a traumatic event is very important for those with PTSD. Some examples of helpful supports include:
- family service agencies
- community mental health agencies
- counsellors or therapists
- family doctors
- community health centres
- religious leaders
- settlement agencies
- workplace employee assistance programs (EAPs).
CAMH (Canadian Association for Mental Health) researchers are making discoveries that could prevent the onset of PTSD. The knowledge they have gained is revolutionizing the way we approach early detection and diagnosis. Click here for more info or to donate.
People can recover from PTSD, but everyone’s journey is different.
NOTE: Resources for this blog post from “Preventing PTSD -CAMH” and “Your Story: I’m Still Here”.