The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (11:59): I move:
That this house:
(a) acknowledges that 27 June 2020 is PTSD Awareness Day;
(b) notes that PTSD relates to post-traumatic stress disorder;
(c) notes that in excess of one million Australians suffer from PTSD;
(d) notes that over 10 per cent of military and emergency service workers and volunteers suffer from PTSD;
(e) encourages people who may be suffering from PTSD to discuss openly any issues, to seek early medical advice or counselling services; and
(f) encourages society to understand the causes of PTSD and that it is not a sign of weakness.
PTSD is an issue that most of our communities may not really understand—what it is, how it is inflicted onto people and how it impacts on everybody’s life.
PTSD is a complex series of emotions that are often persistent, uncomfortable and founded on anxiety. It typically develops after experiencing one or more traumatic events that have threatened someone’s life or safety or those of people around them. These events can include serious accidents, natural disasters, crime, war, torture, physical or sexual assault and other horrifying events. People in professions such as the military, firefighters, paramedics, emergency workers, police officers and others are particularly vulnerable to the debilitating condition.
It is estimated that around 10 per cent of Australians experience PTSD at some stage in their life. People with PTSD can experience other mental health issues at the same time, such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use. Sometimes the feelings dissipate by themselves after talking to family, friends or colleagues, but when these feelings continue and begin to interfere with everyday life, work and relationships then it is time to find help, as these kinds of shocking and overwhelming events can be difficult to come to terms with on our own. The main symptoms of PTSD are:
reliving a traumatic event through distressing, unwanted memories, vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks, which can also include feeling very upset or having intense physical reactions such as heart palpitations or being unable to breathe when reminded of the traumatic event;
avoiding reminders of the traumatic events, including activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings that bring back memories of the trauma;
negative thoughts and feelings such as fear, anger, guilt or feeling flat or numb a lot of the time. A person might blame themselves or others for what happened during or after a traumatic event, they may feel cut off from friends or lose interest in day-to-day activities; and
they may also feel ‘wound up’, which might mean having trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling angry or irritable, taking risks, being easily startled, and/or being constantly on the lookout for danger.
We must always remember that it can take time to discover the best treatment for each person, so it is best to work very closely with a GP or other trusted and qualified health professional to find out what works best for each individual.
Medical research indicates there are 17 signs that may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder. This research has identified that they range from flashbacks to nightmares, panic attacks to eating disorders and cognitive delays, to lowered verbal memory capacity. Many trauma survivors also develop substance abuse issues, as they attempt to self-medicate the negative effects of the PTSD.
Just as not every trauma survivor will develop PTSD, not every individual with PTSD will develop the same signs, and rarely do all 17 exist in the one individual. There are numerous symptoms that indicate a person may be developing PTSD, including:
stress: the person was exposed to injury or severe illness that was life threatening, including actual or threatened injury or violence. This can include many other issues;
intrusion symptoms: the person was exposed to a trauma and then re-experiences the trauma in one or more ways;
unpleasant changes to moods or thoughts;
avoidance: when a person tries to avoid all reminders of trauma, including avoiding external reminders of what happened, and avoiding trauma-related thoughts or emotions, sometimes through the use of drugs or alcohol; and
changes in reactivity: this occurs when a person becomes more easily startled and reacts to frightful experiences more fully, including symptoms of aggression or irritability, difficulty in concentrating, a heightened startled response or engaging in destructive or risky behaviour.
Getting back to my first comments regarding how it impacts people in general, I have friends who were having issues with their personal lives, not knowing that or why their behaviour was affecting their own loved ones. These people just put up with their discomfort, thinking their aggression to others was normal behaviour. After their families convinced them to see a specialist to better understand what medication was required to make them feel better, it turned out that they were suffering from an incident that could be included in the reasons I outlined earlier.
After identifying the causes of what was involved with these dramatic recalls of incidents, they were able to have the relevant treatment, they are leading far better lives and their families and friends now understand the reasons for their previous isolation and behaviour. Also, the person directly involved, the patient, now understands how to better control these emotions. While they may never be the same as prior to the incident, they are able to at least live a far better life and have a better relationship with their loved ones.
I have had personal experience with people suffering from this issue. In a couple of instances these people could not cope or could not accept the prognosis and on a couple of occasions refused to get specialist help. Unfortunately, they succumbed and eventually took their own life. Some of these people came back from the Vietnam conflict and did not talk about their concerns, as they felt they were not really accepted back into the country and society, if we remember back to those days and the demonstrations that were held at that time.
Even though I was not affected nearly as much as some of my mates, at the time of my late wife’s accident I continually had vivid recalls of the time and it went through my mind that if I had done something different on that morning would the result have been different? That went through my mind for many months afterwards. However, having great parents, a great father-in-law, great friends and a great workplace, I was able to talk about my fears, recollections and thoughts and due to this I was able to confront my demons and understand that I had done nothing to contribute to the incident.
Even though it is 26 years since that incident, those recalls still come back, but I am able to understand and control them. That is the same with many people who may be suffering the same recalls: they are able to openly discuss and get their fears and demons out, although they never really leave your system. This is an issue we need to talk openly about and ensure that we do not label people with some of these signs and exclude them. We need to do the opposite and include them in our general lives as much as we can.
I ask everybody who may come into contact with anyone, including family members, who has an issue with their behaviour and you know it is not the way they normally are, to encourage them to talk about that issue, include them in your conversations, include them in your activities and not to isolate them. As I said earlier, if you isolate these people, they will be worse off. It is not a weakness to be personally and emotionally impacted by something we see in our general lives.
I take my hat off to the emergency services people and paramedics who have to attend very dramatic incidents and see very dramatic sights and have to endure the hardship and emotions of the families they come in contact with, particularly people in the regions because people in the regions know each other. When the CFS and SES volunteers who attend go home they know that it could have been one of their own family and so they always have that thought within them. It may not come into their system straightaway, but in two or three years’ time that recall could come back and something may happen.
Even with me at the moment, and I am very open about this, it took me many years not to be fearful of hearing an ambulance. Every time I heard an ambulance for many years afterwards, the incident came straight back to me personally. So, to everyone here in this chamber, in South Australia, in our communities: please look after those people. When you see a sign like that, please encourage them to talk about it, because for some people, when they talk about an issue, they feel better and are able to have a better life. I commend the motion to the house.