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Published on April 23rd, 2014 | from CAMH

Trauma on the job: No shame in asking for help

by Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program

Military suicides and stories of police or paramedics suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have increasingly become front-page news.

But behind the headlines, the suffering of those who come home from war zones or have treated a young child injured in a car accident only to have them die, is seen as taboo.

Despite their tough professional exteriors, these individuals carry scars which cannot be seen.

While the awareness of PTSD has increased, seeking treatment is not often an easy path for those who wrestle with recurring nightmares, avoidance and overall anxiety as a result of the trauma they faced on the job.

And one of the greatest barriers to treatment is shame.

Stigma can stand in the way of getting treatment, especially for those who work as soldiers, police officers or fire fighters. They are supposed to be strong, the ones we all lean on when we need support but what happens when they get hurt, when they experience trauma in the line of duty?

Often, these strong women or tough guys are told to simply suck it up, stick it out and just get over it. They don’t come forward for help because their work culture often doesn’t give them permission to say, “I need help.”

But that stigma and not getting treatment can lead to individuals not sleeping well and cause them to struggle with anxiety and depression.

One client who works on the police force told me his experience with trauma and struggle with the symptoms of PTSD have had a real impact on his job. Because this police officer had become hyper-vigilant as a reaction to the trauma he experienced, he was accused of calling for back-up too soon and it had a negative impact on his relationships with his colleagues – the very people he should have been able to lean on.

Eventually he had to move to another precinct. And then there’s the personal toll it takes on marriages because often people try to cope on their own and hide it from their spouses.

And it is that fear of admitting you are weak, that you need help that causes additional suffering. So some may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope which only compounds the original problem.

You only have to look at the number of suicides in the military to see the potential tragic outcome of not getting treatment.

So for those of us on the front lines of treating PTSD, our priority is to help our patients see there is no shame in asking for help.

It’s only a shame if they don’t receive treatment they so desperately need.

*Photo: Heather Paul on Flickr

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2 Responses to Trauma on the job: No shame in asking for help

  1. Roberta Conway says:

    As the spouse of a military member who did stand up to get help, and then got kicked out of the military for getting the help he needed I can honestly say the stigma was the least of our worries. For us, it’s the hypocracy of institutions who say came and get fixed and then throw you and your entire family to the wolves when the public’s back is turned. My husband was told that he was good enough to go back to work and his unit told him they didn’t trust him anymore so the recommended he be released. We often get the “well, I didn’t think he had PTSD so I didn’t think you needed help” even when we ask for it. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (with a husband in a job that sends you to be shot at and shoot back at people who then turn on you and abandon you, is that any surprise?) and it’s getting worse.We get no help only platitudes and red tape.

    Next time, fight your own damn war.

  2. R says:

    I am a police officer in Ontario, I have PTSD and I have been fighting to survive for years. It is amazing the amount of ‘change’ our government, police services, emergency services and military have been claiming to make. There is certainly more awareness but otherwise there is a lot more work to be done. The stigma still exists, I work part time and my coworkers avoid me like the plague. But a bigger issue exists where help is concerned. There has been very little increase in programming and resources for all of us that are supposed to pull down the wall of stigma and pave the path for future injured people. Instead we have to wade through the bureaucracy that everyone else does. Fun fact! Emergency service personnel are more likely to have borderline personality disorder or at least attributes for it that make treating us extremely difficult!! We are less than likely to respond to the conventional forms of treatment and actually make progress. So why am I waiting for a program that won’t even help?? Why not instead offer me one that will? Why not actually invest in the programs that will help us emergency service workers rebound so that we don’t have to worry about stigma?! Please stop telling me how okay it is to be broken especially if you can’t offer a way to fix me.

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