What Exactly is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

This past week a story broke that there have been several first responders who have committed suicide across Canada within a three month period. This has brought more attention on to the stresses our first responders face and has highlighted the lack of resources available to help them cope. In the last few years there has become more awareness around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially with regards to military personnel. Despite increased awareness there are still a lot of misconceptions around PTSD and how you develop it.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD a person has to have been exposed to a traumatic event in which two conditions must be present:
1) the individual experienced or witnessed an event that involved death or serious injury, or the threat of death or serious injury (violent assault, kidnapping, natural disasters, severe car accidents) and
2) the individual reacted to the event with extreme fear, helplessness and horror.

I have heard people comment that they have PTSD because they are upset over an emotional event (i.e. conflict at home, divorce, illness). While those events might be upsetting and may lead an individual to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, they would not lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. It also important to note that PTSD symptoms can have a delayed onset. That is someone might experience a traumatic event and not experience symptoms until months later.

It is heartbreaking that individuals who put themselves on the front lines are falling through the cracks of our health care system. There is still very much a stigma around a mental health diagnosis, especially among first responders, and I hope that out of this news coverage it will prompt others who are struggling to come forward. While I think our country needs to improve the supports and resources available to individuals who are experiencing PTSD, we also need to provide a culture that allows individuals who are struggling to speak out.

Danielle

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