PTSD and you? And us?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Last week, around Remembrance Day, I was in a local Legion hall and saw on the wall a collage of photos of Canadian servicemen & women who have given their lives in Afghanistan; it was a simple yet noble statement of the terrible costs of war, something which should balance our tendency to rush off to foreign battlefields in the pursuit of grand ideals. Even more heart-breaking are those portraits amid all in our military who died in Afghanistan of “self-inflicted causes”. Most of them young men, just entering the prime of their lives. PTSD is the general explanation, and has been, we are now concluding, a significant cause of human distress throughout history.
This is not only about warfare. Local service-people – firefighters, police, first-responders – also suffer PTSD. We can picture circumstances these public servants face every day, and it’s easy to see why many of them are hit so hard by PTSD. All to say, this condition deserves even more research and some serious consideration of, first, how to prevent it, and then deal with and reduce its devastation. Its victims are people with their careers still before them, people with families and life-partners, people still with parents and children, people with personal goals and aspirations – all cut short. They were helping us all, in the abstract way that military force or dealing with trauma helps us all, collectively.
As stark as these examples are, PTSD surely also reaches much deeper into our society than most of us realize. We are an empathetic species (at our best), and that’s the door to PTSD; I suspect only sociopaths are capable of ignoring PTSD. Any one of us could come upon a terrible traffic accident tomorrow, and many of us deal with children who lose their lives to accidents or illnesses. We each can easily become victims. We witness homes devastated, lives and families dismembered . . . and so we are all liable to suffer this vaguely-defined condition.  And it isn’t getting any better. We can imagine, some time in the future, that a radioactive dump upstream gives way, or imagine that any of our neighbours suffer the devastation of wildfires now sweeping the West Coast. This is real life, and with it come the stresses and shocks that give rise to this condition.
Real life tells us that PTSD applies to more than the dramatic cases of heroic firefighters or brave soldiers. Right now the media is reporting doctors and medial staff suffering PTSD. “Burnout”, they call it, and we’re told that this
affects almost half of all physicians. Any wonder?  “Of course!”, we say;
doctors personally carry the life-and-death responsibilities of their trade. They, more than anyone, face the disappointments so common in health-care. 
It seems a no-brainer that individuals dealing with the normal tragedies of everyday life and who also bear the weight of their neighbours’ health and lives are prime candidates for PTSD.  How unfair, it seems, that someone working out of concern for others must bear the brunt of the inevitable failures within their own careers. It bothers me to hear friends complain about medical service without any thought to the conditions of the those who are struggling to provide us with that care. As Churchill might have said, “if you don’t like the wait-times here, try anywhere else.” 
Finally, a nod to probably our community’s most un-recognized victims of PTSD: single mothers bringing up a young family all on their own. Single-fathers, too. There may be no head-line disaster (sometimes there is), but year after year of unmitigated struggle to raise their children and pay their bills can be as debilitating as a single big crisis. The fact that single mothers and physicians may “self-inflict” with drugs or alcohol, not guns, doesn’t lessen their need for our attention and assistance.
We survive our own lives thanks to support from the complex relationships of families and communities. We owe the people supporting us plenty— even those we don’t know. It’s up to us to try to ease whatever burdens we find around us. Especially PTSD – in all its forms.