Though PTSD has been around for quite sometime, according to this article (by the Vietnam Veterans of America), little is actually understood about it. It is known that it often stems from, or is a result of, exposure to a traumatic experiences that the brain just can’t handle. What is not so easily understood is why some will get it and some won’t. A key point seems to be the repetitiveness of exposure to traumatic events. One exposure (unless exceedingly severe) may not have an effect, but imagine one such traumatic exposure on top of another, on top of another. Add to that the occupational Hazard thatFirst Responders (Fire, EMS, Police) are thought by the public to be akin to super heroes (or close to it). Even amongst themselves, there is the expectation to be strong (though as more PTSD sufferers are opening up about their experiences, the stigma to keep quiet is lessening)…. As I was saying, you add the fact that First Responders are continually exposed to traumatic experiences to both the public perception of super-heroism and a stigma that one does not talk about weakness or “what one saw” and you have a recipe that can lead to the suffering of PTSD.
I don’t claim to have an understanding of PTSD, short of what I read online. I will say that one of the most important things to remember is – Talk About What You Saw. If debriefing is not common in your department, see about making it so. Speak up, Speak out. Another important point to remember is that often PTSD sufferers often suffer in silence, finding it difficult to talk about what they are feeling. Know what to watch for:
• Anger and irritability
• Guilt, shame or self-blame
• Substance abuse
• Feelings of mistrust, betrayal, alienation and loneliness
• Depression and hopelessness
• Suicidal thoughts and feelings
• Physical aches and pains
Somethings to remember:
• unless you are a professional, don’t try to “fix” the problem. You can however, offer to “be there” to the best of your ability and lend a “listening ear”. Encourage communication.
• Don’t judge
• Don’t offer meaningless platitudes, “It’ll be okay”, “These feelings will go away”, “It’s normal to feel…”
If you know, or think you know, a brother who is suffering don’t wait for he or she to speak up – they may not be capable – help them to get the help they need. Check with your local Mental Health organizations and/or hospitals for resources.
I’ll leave with one last thought. If you, yourself, suffer (or have suffered) with PTSD and are able to share your story – Do So. In doing so you can offer hope & support to others… Speak Up, Speak Out!!