Know the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder common for first responders

  • Jun. 28, 2018 10:54 a.m.

RELATED: After prison riot, Abbotsford guard struggled for help with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder arises in humans following a traumatic event or series of cumulative traumas.

To be diagnosed, someone has to have “clinically significant” symptoms at least a month later, says Leah Douglas, an associate professor of social work at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Douglas, who also has a counseling private practice specializing in trauma, says many people suffering from PTSD and other trauma-related disorders aren’t getting the care they need.

She says first responders, like corrections officers, are primed to develop PTSD by their daily work.

“They are the textbook definition of people who are witnessing repeated exposure to serious injury, to death.”

Often, she says, sufferers are functioning through daily life. But they may be coping unhealthily in secret.

“Sometime they’re functioning well but maybe they’re drinking too much or maybe they’re getting into some fights with their spouse, but it’s not extreme. And then one event will trigger a sort-of cascade of symptoms.”

The common symptoms are avoidance, anxiety, flashbacks, negative outlooks, reactivity and hyper-arousal.

But there are proven treatments. Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing mimics rapid-eye movement sleep.

“The premise is that those rapid eye movements stimulate the same sort of processing as would happen in our sleep. For people with PTSD, they’re not sleeping, they’re not usually getting a deep sleep. It doesn’t change your memory but it sort of softens and takes that intensity, the charge out of the memories.”

Medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and other treatments are also effective, she says.

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