For some people their loved one telling them they have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) may come as a shock, for others they may have anticipated this was coming after noticing some early symptoms or changes in behaviour. Regardless of how you found out your loved one has been confirmed as experiencing PTSD, it’s likely you will want more information
More information on PTSD in emergency services is available at eml.com.au/ptsd including the Expert Guidelines: Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers, written by nine of Australia’s leading PTSD experts to help clinicians, the emergency services and EML to appropriately manage claims where trauma has occurred.
WHAT IS POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?
The first and most obvious question is what is PTSD? The Expert Guidelines: Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers describe PTSD this way:
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) describes a severe and persistent mental health impairment that can occur following exposure to a single or multiple traumatic events. An individual with PTSD typically has four clusters of symptoms: re-experiencing symptoms; avoidance symptoms; negative cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event; and arousal symptoms, including insomnia and irritability.
One way to look at it is:
Human beings seem to have this fundamental survival mechanism that is hardwired into us, that gets activated when we come under extraordinary threat that can get damaged and when that becomes damaged, we believe it becomes post-traumatic stress disorder”
- Professor Zachary Steel
You may find watching this video helpful to understand what PTSD is and what is involved with recovery (link to spotlight on PTSD vid).
PTSD should only be diagnosed following a thorough clinical assessment covering the history of presentation, trauma history, symptom profile, general psychiatric assessment, physical health, substance use, personal history, family history and social and occupational functioning.
When seeking help for managing trauma-related psychological injuries, it might be helpful to talk with your GP about The Expert Guidelines: Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers and accompanying Clinician’s Summary. These resources were written by national PTSD experts and are designed to assist with the diagnosis, treatment and management of PTSD amongst first responders.
Emergency services workers are at increased risk of developing PTSD
If your loved one is diagnosed with PTSD it is highly likely it is due to their work as a First Responder. In this job they can attend potentially traumatic incidents regularly which as Professor Steel mentions in the video can add up throughout their career to increase their risk of PTSD.
SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
PTSD has a few symptom clusters that combine to create this condition:
- Intrusion – this can include involuntary and intrusive memories of the event/s, flashbacks, recurrent traumatic nightmares and intense distress after being exposed to a reminder of the trauma
- Negative mood – as Craig outlined in the video, he struggled to feel feelings of love and happiness but could tap into anger and aggression easily.
- Avoidance – your loved one may make an effort to avoid any thoughts, feelings or experiences related to the trauma they experienced.
- Arousal – your loved one may not be sleeping well, they might be easily irritated, have trouble concentrating and startle easily. They may also be hypervigilant which can mean they repeatedly check on things for example that the kids are still in bed asleep, the batteries in the smoke detector are ok, the windows and doors are locked or that no one is on the property.
There may also be dissociative symptoms where your loved one feels an altered sense of reality and struggles to remember important aspects of the traumatic event. It is important to remember however that everyone’s experience of PTSD is different and that although each PTSD diagnosis requires the above symptom clusters they may be weighted differently depending on personal factors.
PTSD AND DEPRESSION
Psychologists and Psychiatrists who specialise in trauma have stated that it is not uncommon for First Responders with PTSD to also have another condition present at the same time, which is referred to as a comorbidity. In First Responders it is not unusual to see a second diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder or Alcohol Use Disorder and essentially it just means more and varied treatment is required.
PTSD CAN BE TREATED
PTSD is a mental health condition that is severe and persistent but also highly treatable.
It’s important to remember that although it won’t disappear overnight, PTSD isn’t a death sentence. As Craig mentions in the video above, with right treatment and the right support, your loved one can go onto live a good life.