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No substitute for education when helping someone with PTSD: experts, advocates

The 2022 Mini Indy Race 4 Recovery put on by OSI-CAN was an entertaining way to improve PTSD awareness and have some fun at Moose Jaw's Town & Country Mall. OSI-CAN

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are sharing their stories, and why education on the disorder needs to be expanded during PTSD awareness month.

“I myself was diagnosed about three years ago with PTSD and have been living with it since,” said Ronley Arnold, an Operational Stress Injury Canada (OSI-CAN) program user.

“It was difficult. There were many times when I would be in my basement avoiding my family friend so they wouldn’t see me going through panic attacks and things like that. There were many places that I would not go because they reminded me of the incidents.”

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

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“PTSD can also cause physical symptoms such as chronic pain, sweating, jitteriness,” said Julius Brown a Director for OSI-CAN. “Headaches, dizziness and chest pain. Other PTSD symptoms include irritability, anxiety, depression, sleep problems and difficulty concentrating.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, about seven or eight out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

The survey on mental health and stressful events said about eight per cent of Canadians met the criteria for probable PTSD, and the symptoms affect various parts of their life.

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However, for some people, they may not know they are in fact experiencing PTSD.

The bottom areas of the brain, the stress response, begins to alter functions in our prefrontal cortex, actually diminishes and it can actually shut down,” said Sidney McGillicky, the owner and clinic lead for living sky counselling.

“So that’s one factor where people may not be that cognizant of what is happening to them, but they also can become sensitized to the symptoms.”

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When someone becomes aware of their condition, PTSD is far more treatable, according to Brown.

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People can also create buffers in their life to help deal with PTSD.

“You can create social media buffers if you have PTSD,” said McGillicky. “So not that we want to live in a bubble and isolate ourselves. We want to limit how much, how much we’re being exposed to social media.

“We want to have relational buffers. We want to have people around us in our lives who are healthy, who are relationally safe.”

And while PTSD has become a larger discussion point over the last few years, there is still some stigma attached to people living with PTSD.

There is a lot of awareness within organizations. There’s a lot of campaigns to bring this to light, and that is necessary and needed,” said McGillicky.

“However, there still is a significant and a real healthy level of stigma around PTSD and mental health issues. Every day in my practice, I hear of the stigma within organizations right across the board. The stigma is still quite entrenched within our organizations and society in general.”

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Brown said the objective for National PTSD Awareness Month is to let people know it exists, to create a help seeking society that makes people more comfortable asking for help.

“There is hope, there is somewhere that you can actually go,” said Arnold. “I was able to attend the meet the peer group support meetings and I was surrounded by people who had experienced it themselves. So I was not alone, and knowing that actually made me feel more hopeful and the fact that I could get through it. That there was a chance to heal.”

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