Last­ing ef­fects of PTSD

First re­spon­ders share sto­ries lead­ing up to men­tal health sym­po­sium

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - HEALTH - BY ALYSHA CAMP­BELL news­room@jour­nalpioneer.com

The ef­fects of an emer­gency can last long af­ter the lights and sirens are off, for not only those in­volved, but the first re­spon­ders too.

The re­sult is of­ten post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD), a men­tal health prob­lem that de­vel­ops af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing or wit­ness­ing some­thing trau­matic.

Break­ing Bar­ri­ers, a men­tal health sup­port sys­tem, is host­ing a men­tal health sym­po­sium for first re­spon­ders in Sum­mer­side on Sept. 16 where re­spon­ders can tell their sto­ries, lis­ten to others, and per­haps get the sup­port and tools they need to cope.

Kent Cooke was a para­medic for 23 years, and for him, it was ev­ery­thing he has seen over his ca­reer that con­trib­uted to his PTSD. At­tend­ing to ev­ery­thing from car­diac ar­rests to mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents and in­dus­trial ac­ci­dents, there isn’t much time to recharge af­ter the call, said Cooke.

“We never have time to de­com­press; it all seems to build up. We get a call, drop a pa­tient off, and we’re back out there.”

Hav­ing a sup­port sys­tem is im­por­tant to Cooke, and his wife is a big part of that.

First re­spon­ders don’t al­ways get the choice of leav­ing work at the of­fice, of­ten tak­ing the stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ences home with them.

“It started to af­fect my home life. I didn’t want to go any­where, not even to Christ­mas din­ner with my wife’s fam­ily.”

Med­i­ca­tion is a ne­ces­sity for Cooke, tak­ing eight to nine pills a night, he said.

How­ever, it’s the one he doesn’t take that keeps him calm in a crowd.

He was re­cently di­ag­nosed with anx­i­ety and was pre­scribed Ati­van.

“I haven’t taken one yet though; some­thing about just the bot­tle be­ing in my pocket helps.”

The bot­tle doesn’t keep away the sirens though. The lights and sirens bring it all back for Cooke. He has to pull his car over, turn the mu­sic up loud, close his eyes, and wait for it to pass.

Re­lax­ation is im­por­tant to him. He cuts grass, reads, tends to his hobby farm, and colours to re­lax.

Ju­lia Somers, a former para­medic, also tried colour­ing to re­lax her mind.

“It was so frus­trat­ing. Those adult colour­ing books are hard,” she added.

She was a vol­un­teer fire­fighter for years and loved it, then took the next step to be­come a para­medic.

But be­ing a fire­fighter and para­medic be­came too much for her, she ad­mit­ted.

On her days off, she would be at the fire hall. There were no breaks.

She was a para­medic for only two years, and although her ca­reer with EMS was short, it wasn’t easy.

“It was a lot of small events in a short amount of time,” Somers said, de­scrib­ing the cause of her PTSD.

Although she has yet to be of­fi­cially di­ag­nosed due to a long wait­list and few re­sources, her doc­tor and ther­a­pist are treat­ing her for PTSD.

Her large fam­ily sup­port sys­tem and med­i­ca­tion help a lot, she said.

Somers will be one of the speak­ers at the men­tal health sym­po­sium on Sept. 16 at the Loy­al­ist Lakeview Re­sort in Sum­mer­side.

Events like this help a lot,

Cooke said.

To any­one silently deal­ing with PTSD, both Cooke and Somers strongly urge speak­ing to some­one about it, whether that is a col­league, friend or fam­ily mem­ber.

“There’s so much hope. I know it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in it, but I was in it and now I’m out,” said Somers.

ALYSHA CAMP­BELL/JOUR­NAL PIONEER

Ju­lia Somers, vol­un­teer fire­fighter and former para­medic, will be one of the speak­ers at the Break­ing Bar­ri­ers men­tal health sym­po­sium com­ing up in Sum­mer­side.

ALYSHA CAMP­BELL/JOUR­NAL PIONEER

Kent Cooke, former para­medic of 23 years will be one of many in at­ten­dance at the men­tal health sym­po­sium for first re­spon­ders on Sept. 16.

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