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Awareness of suicide from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

On 25th September at Farnham Maltings, the Aldershot Militaria Society and Military Historical Society is having an exhibition from our military history of medals, uniforms and many more artefacts.

However, on the other side of the world “the 22 push-up challenge” aims to raise awareness of veteran suicide after research showed that in the US 22 veterans are taking their own lives every day. Through the power of social media, the inspiring challenge reached our shores with amputee British soldiers joining the initiative by filming themselves performing 22 push-ups daily for 22 days and uploading the videos to Facebook under the hashtags #22KILL and #22pushupchallenge. The soldiers that took up the challenge are currently both serving and ex-servicemen, which raises a number of questions: Is suicide just among veterans? What drove our veterans to complete suicide? What are we missing?

Looking back through history we always remember the historic things our ancestors did to protect our country, but not often do we hear about their contributions to their mental health. Perhaps you might have heard of the term “shell shock”. The term came to be widely recognised during World War I and today is regarded as “combat stress reaction” and refers to a cluster of short-term psychological and physical symptoms, such as hypervigilance, irritability and fatigue etc. If these symptoms continue, the condition is usually PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

PTSD is a severe anxiety response which can develop after a person is involved in or witnesses a distressing or life-threatening event, such as military combat, terrorist attack, serious physical injury, natural disaster, rape and physical violence e.g., in other words, it is the experience of trauma. Has anyone in your family served in our forces? Perhaps your grandads and grans, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and even your brothers and sisters have experienced or witnessed trauma?

If yes, are you up-to-date or able to recognise some of the symptoms these precious family members may have experienced? You may not have been told because generally, people who have served their country across wars and trials usually do not talk about their feelings and emotions. In addition, our British culture does not find it easy to speak about such feelings, particularly when they are shocking, horrific and painful. So let me explain the three main types of symptoms …

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person vividly and involuntarily re-lives the traumatic event in the form of nightmares, upsetting memories, flashbacks, repetitive and distressing images or sensations, physical reactions and sensations when reminded of the event such as pain, sweating, pounding heart, nausea or trembling.                 

  • Avoidance and emotional numbing is another key symptom of PTSD.  This can be anything that reminds you of the trauma from avoiding talking to anyone about your experience to avoiding certain places, smells, colours etc. Also many try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often diverting themselves with hobbies or work or by trying not to feel anything at all. This can lead to isolation and withdrawal from activities that they used to enjoy.                                 

  • Feeling 'on edge' (hyperarousal). Someone with PTSD may find it very difficult to relax, may be very anxious and always scanning for potential dangers and threats which often leads to irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia and even poor concentration.             

There are also other symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, chest and stomach pain, not to mention self-harming or destructive behaviours such as alcohol and drug misuse. Other symptoms can be related to mental health such as anxiety, depression or phobias which can lead to work-related problems, breakdown of relationships and suicidal ideation.

                 “Most people who are suicidal do not want to die they just want the pain to stop.”

                  I am writing this piece to tell you that there is hope and not to suffer in silence.

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