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Day of Remembrance: PTSD

 

 

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

 

“Childhood can be a tricky thing.  Some of us move thru childhood without a wrinkle; others have to try and break down a never-ending wall thru pain, grief, and perseverance.  What is sad, is some don’t make it.  They choose suicide because they just can’t see over that wall. Others get over it but drag that wall with them.  Those who do carry that wall with them, unfortunately, share the same dilemmas. Do I turn to alcohol, drugs, or suicide?  Do I seek help, or do I carry that wall, which has now grown taller and heavier, further into my life and hopes it just goes away?” 
Kelly Fitzsimmons, Retired (30 years) OPP Sgt

 

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).

 

“I continued like this for years, spiralling out of control.  At times I used alcohol and drugs.  I even stared at my gun contemplating my future.  The human spirit is a strange thing.  I finally recognized that I was at a crossroads.  I could carry on like I was or move forward.  I had to do something.  Friends and family saw me struggling, but to no fault of their own, were unsure of what to do or say.  I went to therapy for ten years, on and off.  Then took my abuser to court.  I attended Homewood Mental Health Facility twice for PTSD from my past and from work.  My first time thru, I could not get past my trust factor and chose to return for a second time three months after the first.  This was the TSN turning point for me.”  
Kelly Fitzsimmons, Retired (30 years) OPP Sgt

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.
“I am now 53 years old, happily retired and I can say, I honestly believed that I would not make it past 40.  Luckily, I was wrong.  Why write about this?  I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those who suffer from mental health, for those who have loved ones suffering from mental illness and also for those who deal daily with people who are struggling with mental health issues.  I wish I had all of the answers.  I don’t. What I do have, is this incredible life after what could certainly have been my death.  Don’t get me wrong.  I struggle and always will at times. But I believe as those bricks go back up, I work at taking them down one at a time.  Guess what?  I’m still here!” 
Kelly Fitzsimmons, Retired (30 years) OPP Sgt

 

 

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”. 

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