Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 40th Anniversary
This year (2020) marks the 40th anniversary of the formal recognition of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a mental health disorder, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). To recognize this event, the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) has produced a video that documents the progress society has made in our understanding of PTSD.
We have come a long way in forty years and we understand more about the effects PTSD has on Public Safety Personnel (PSP) in Canada. Please join CIPSRT in sharing this video and recognizing June 27th, 2020 as PTSD awareness day in Ontario. Through our combined efforts we can increase PTSD awareness and reduce the stigma for PSP facing PTSD.
What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a group of symptoms people might develop after experiencing a potentially traumatic event.
PTSD Symptoms after Trauma
There are four types of PTSD symptoms a person might experience after being exposed to a potentially traumatic event.
- Re-experiencing symptoms
A hallmark symptom of PTSD involves re-experiencing the traumatic event. This may occur in the form of unwanted and upsetting memories of the event or repeated and distressing nightmares. Some people have a more intense re-experience of events called “flashbacks,” where they might feel like they are actually experiencing the trauma again.
- Avoidance symptoms
Avoidance symptoms include a strong urge to stay away from reminders of a potentially traumatic event. These reminders might include people, places, objects, or activities which are related to the trauma in some way. Some people also go out of their way to avoid thinking or talking about the event.
- Changes in thoughts and mood
Potentially traumatic events can change how people think about themselves, other people, and their world. The changes can include feeling hopeless or detached from loved ones or having difficulty experiencing positive emotions – or even sometimes having any emotions at all. Such changes might indicate PTSD, especially for people who were formerly a ‘positive’ or ‘realistic’ person but have become increasingly ‘negative’ after a potentially traumatic event.
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
Potentially traumatic events can also cause significant distress and physical symptoms. People can become more watchful, on guard, easily startled, or frightened. Difficulties sleeping or trouble concentrating can be caused by diverse stress, up to and including traumatic stress. In addition, potentially traumatic events can cause increased feelings of anger, irritability, shame, or guilt.
Many people can experience some of the above symptoms after a potentially traumatic event; nevertheless, for most people the symptoms fade within a couple weeks.
If someone experiences several of the above symptoms from each of the four groups for longer than a month, and the symptoms are extremely distressing or interfere with work, relationships, or other important areas of life, they may be experiencing PTSD and may benefit from appropriate mental health care.
If you are worried about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, you can use our anonymous assessment tool.
What is a potentially traumatic event?
When a mental health professional is evaluating whether someone has PTSD, they often consider the experience or situation thought to have triggered the symptoms. A traumatic event is different than normal daily stress or pressure. Potential traumas usually involve experiencing or witnessing severe injury, feeling that your life or somebody else’s life is in danger, or witnessing an intentional or accidental death. Events such as natural disasters can also be traumatic.
The kinds of potentially traumatic events that can lead to PTSD are often experienced in person-but not always. For example, some work involves repeated exposure to stories of injury or death, such as being a call-centre operator for 911 or a crime scene photo developer for a police unit.
Not everybody who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Indeed, in the North American general population most people (i.e., 50-90%) will experience one or more potentially traumatic events during their lifetime; however, relatively few (i.e., 5-10%) will develop PTSD. Even people who are in careers where exposure to potentially traumatic events may be more common, like public safety personnel (PSP), are not necessarily going to develop PTSD. There are responses to potentially traumatic events that can be considered fairly normal. For example, you might feel unsettled or uncomfortable at first, but most people recover and return to normal within a few days; however, some people do go on to have longer-lasting challenges after experiencing a potentially traumatic event.
What can leadership do to support mental health?
During a recent town hall as part of our CIPSRT COVID-19 Readiness Resource Project, we had an expert and a public safety personnel (PSP) leader talk about the importance of leadership in caring for PSP mental health. To learn more about what leadership can do to build a strong and healthy environments for PSP mental health you can watch the video below:
Story from the Front Line
Constable Derrick Fox has been a uniform officer serving in both Moose Jaw and Regina for 13 years, and for the last eight years serving as a member of the canine unit with the Regina Police Service. By sharing his PTSD story, Cst. Fox has not only empowered himself, but has given others the courage to seek help. Watch his story below.
Research that explores exposure to trauma, PTSD and treatment in PSP
Want to know more about how PSP are exposed to trauma, the prevalence of PTSD, or what kind of treatment PSP seek?
Below are lay summaries of some of the research conducted through the CIPSRT-CIHR consortium that aims to answer these questions.