General News — 11 August 2015

A campaign to end the stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder, the second most common mental health issue after depression, was launched in Canberra on Monday.

The Mental Illness Education ACT program aims to educate the community about PTSD and how to identify it, as well as reduce the surrounding stigma.

PTSD Awareness program manager Ray Simpson believes it is important to stop the misconception that only soldiers who were in war zones are affected by the disorder.

“It is important that our military, police officers and servicemen get support, but sexual assault victims, around 50 per cent of those people go on to have PTSD,” Mr Simpson said.

More than half of all Australians are involved in a serious motor vehicle accident in their lifetime and 15 per cent will go on to have PTSD.

In total, about 10 per cent of the population will be affected by the disorder in their lifetime.

“There are a lot of people impacted by PTSD that possibly aren’t even aware what PTSD is,” Mr Simpson said.

Some of the causes of PTSD include physical, domestic or sexual assault, workplace accidents, natural disasters, and other traumatic events that threaten a person’s life and expose them to threat of death or serious injury.

Professor David Forbes, from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, says PTSD affects almost every area of a sufferer’s life.

“It impacts people’s capacity to work; it impacts on people’s family lives and their capacity to do even productive activities at home,” he said.

“One of the other areas it is often associated with is emotional shutdown or numbing, so it can make it hard for the person to meaningfully connect with other people; it’s like dealing with others through a pane of glass.”

The symbol of the PTSD Awareness Program is an elephant, because often sufferers are told not to think about the traumatic event, which works as well as telling them not to think about the big pink elephant in the room.

“The one thing the person tries desperately to do is not think about that memory, but of course the more effort they put into not thinking about the memory, the more strongly the memory bounces back,” Professor Forbes said.

The community program was launched at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, opposite the Legislative Assembly, on Monday morning.

This article first appeared on ‘Canberra Times’ on 10 August 2015.


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