Valley Veterans: Post traumatic stress disorder

We often judge others before we really know them. I once commented about someone I had just met and my wife said to me “how can you say that, you don’t know their journey”.

She was correct. I did not really know that person. My wife’s remark changed the way I form opinions about others as I often do not know their journey. Scratching the surface on someone’s journey sometimes reveals that they may be suffering from some form of mental illness. In many cases they have had events in their lives that have triggered that illness. Traumatic events in ones life can sometimes result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Mental health support organisation Beyondblue describes PTSD as a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety or that of others around them. People involved in vehicle accidents, victims of assault and those who have experienced wars or disasters are among those at risk. Our emergency service workers, particularly paramedics, police and firefighters, who face repeated exposure to traumatic events, are at high risk of PTSD. 

There are many symptoms of PTSD and not everyone will have the same experience. I spoke with Nambucca Heads resident Sean, who has been diagnosed with PTSD. Sean was an Australian Soldier deployed to Somalia in 1993 on Operation Solace.

In Sean’s case PTSD did not seriously impact on his life until five years after his experience in Somalia. He was exhibiting a range of out-of-character behaviours and succumbing to substance abuse. This put considerable pressure on his family and friends however, with their ongoing support and the appropriate health care, Sean is now in a better place. Sean has also invested time in understanding PTSD and the triggers associated with it. 

As a society we are getting better at removing the unfair stigma of mental illness however it is often still there in the mind of the sufferer and others. Before you judge someone you should think to yourself ‘do I know their journey?’ 

If you or someone you know may be suffering from PTSD or another mental illness you could visit Beyondblue at www.beyondblue.org.au or the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service at www.vvcs.gov.au

Mick Birtles is a recently retired Army Officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the welfare and well-being of veterans on the Mid North Coast.