An Honourable Injury
Recently at a conference I attended about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I heard 66 year old Romeo Dallaire speak about his life. This man, a senior, is using his experience and wisdom to change the world. His personal experience with trauma and the resultant PTSD is a difficult topic. His harrowing experiences and ongoing recovery process remain painful nearly two decades later. His willingness to talk honestly and with warmth about his struggles with addictions, demons, and bureaucracy were powerful to hear. In 1993, he was given command of the United Nations Observer Mission in Uganda and Rwanda and was witness there to a bloody civil war including the massacre of hundreds of thousands. His experiences are documented in his book and the movie Shake Hands with the Devil.
As a consequence of this experience, he suffered from PTSD or operational stress injury. He said, “this should be considered an honourable injury as it is really no different than being shot in the butt. It is just that it is between the ears.” Because of his activism, organizations with people impacted by traumatic events are changing and indeed recognizing PTSD as a consequence of their work – recognizing it as “an honourable injury.” Alberta recently passed Bill 1 which grants Workers Compensation for first responders – police, firemen, and ambulance workers – for PTSD. There was also a lobbying effort to include social workers. These are all professions, along with military personnel, who are witness to tragic and traumatic events.
In our community, which is home to those who have experienced traumatic events and live the consequences, there can be little doubt that many are suffering from PTSD which has never been acknowledged or treated. These are the current seniors who suffered under the strain of traumatic events before PTSD was acknowledged as a genuine health issue. Dallaire described these injuries as invisible and noted the impact of traumatic events may not be evident for years.
Other speakers at this conference noted that it is estimated 4% of people suffer from PTSD with higher incidents amongst firefighters (18%), adolescent survivors of car accidents (34%), and rape victims (48%) to name a few precipitating traumatic events. One of the symptoms of PTSD is a reoccurring memory of the event. Dallaire described this as not memory at all but an actual vivid reliving of the events. PTSD is an anxiety disorder and the symptoms were listed as: changed behaviour, impulsiveness, aggression, self-destruction, and self-blaming. Other symptoms include detachment and loss of interest in activity as well as sleeping problems.
Although the conference was about a difficult topic, the acknowledgement of PTSD as a health issue is encouraging. Prevention programs, understanding, and treatment options have been expanding. This is all good news for first responders and others in our community. Perhaps in the future there will be fewer suffering from this “honourable injury.”