PTSD - Post-traumatic stress Disorder. Few know about it, yet many have dealt with it and it’s usually hidden behind a closed door. PTSD is defined as a mental conditional caused by witnessing or experiencing actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence. It is the reoccurring thoughts or memories of those events that can seriously affect a person’s life for years to come.
Few will understand what PTSD is, however think about it for a moment. You are someone who receives a call, be it a dispatcher, a nurse, a customs officer, an ambulance attendant, a fireman, a police man, or anyone who goes to work, and unexpectedly something happens. Without warning, he or she becomes witness to something that many of us would never come across. For example, responding to a motor vehicle pileup where many are injured and some have died. Prime example, the recent train derailment in Washington.
Legislation called “Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act” was passed in April 2016. Recently I met with retired Sergeant John Flesher of the Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.) who knows all too well about how this horrible crisis can affect not only the individual’s life, but family and friends as well. I have asked retired Sergeant Flesher to help shed some light on what is and how PTSD affects first responders.
While working with the Lambton County OPP, common occurrences that stands out for Flesher was to always follow up with the dispatchers after receiving a critical call, giving him or her a chance to decompress and confirm that they were always aware of the outcome of the call. Even after retirement, it was hard for Flesher to just walk away from “the job”. Instead, Flesher continued his education to complete his Master of Arts in Counselling where he is now working at the Family Counselling Centre in Sarnia, assisting individuals with anxiety, stress, depression, grief, loss and PTSD where resources are provided that fit the clients’ needs.
According to Flesher, “Having clients come in with chronic pain, heavy meds, feeling entirely broken to where you watch them flourish, becoming pain and drug-free is fantastic. We all have that ability to heal. The concept of post traumatic growth is also something that we try to emphasize as some of us are led to believe that we are broken, and our diagnosis is seen as a death sentence. It is an injury and like a broken bone, we can heal and become even stronger with proper care and treatment.”
No doubt there is still a stigma attached to PTSD. Individuals are afraid that if he or she discloses to their employer some of their symptoms, especially in positions such as policing, the employer is quick to take the individual’s gun or remove them off the road from policing. What is lacking is some employers do not realize that like many injuries, treatment and time is needed to heal. Because of actions such as these from some employers, much goes unnoticed, undisclosed and untreated which leads to bigger problems.
Being someone who was diagnosed and treated properly, Flesher was able to return to work and function fully. Flesher says, “If we can get the message out that asking for help is courage, not weakness, then PTSD can be dealt with properly without repercussion on individuals who come forward.”
Flesher would like to see a Wings of Change Peer Support Group chapter here in Sarnia as is offered throughout Canada where people can realize that they are not alone.
According to Flesher, “No one should suffer in silence. I’m also not shy about sharing my information. Anyone can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or on my cell at 519-312-4004 or to find out more about PTSD or to speak about their situation.”
Here at First Monday, we welcome your feedback on your story. Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s not keep it behind closed doors any longer.