PTSD… It’s more than just a military condition

Are you afraid to go to sleep because of nightmares or terrors? Do you feel detached from your partner? Do

Are you afraid to go to sleep because of nightmares or terrors? Do you feel detached from your partner? Do you find it easier to be on your own because you don’t want to explain how you feel? Are there things that make you feel like you are reliving a trauma? These are all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

ANZAC Day commemorations allow you to pay tribute to the courage, mateship, dignity and readiness to of our servicemen and servicewomen in laying down their lives for country and comrade.

However, Starts at 60 wants to turn the spotlight towards those suffering trauma as a result of being involved in something callous and/or devastating.

While it is estimated that more than 30 per cent of all serving Australian defence force personnel experience post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics PTSD affects roughly 6.4 per cent of Australians.

According to registered psychologist Monique Mathis, PTSD is a particular set of symptoms and/or behaviours that can occur following a traumatic event.

“That event can be a death, the threat of death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence,” Mathis says.

She says the experience can be in the course of professional duties, like defence personnel or ambulance officers, fire fighters, police officers and hospital staff would experience, or it can be direct exposure such as indirect, such as knowing a family member of friend has been exposed to danger

One such PTSD sufferer is Matthew Parr, a navy medic for 26 months.

“I was working a weekend and a couple of my patients from ashore and I went, because we were friends, I went and got it for them. I didn’t make it back,” Parr says.

He was hospitalised and unconscious for nine days. In addition to PTSD, Parr has short-term memory loss, which he says has made him “relatively unemployable”.

Thought the trauma happened many years ago, Parr is still affected by it.

“People suffering from PTSD will often experience a number of difficulties,” Mathis says.

“Most notable is reliving the event, often through pervasive and intrusive memories, nightmares, and/or flashbacks.”

Mathis says the symptoms can also be physiological too: “Your heart might race, you might pace, you could break out into a sweat. Sufferers will often experience an overall feeling of fear or panic.” Then there are difficulties with concentration, sleep, and decision making.

But while there are challenges associated with PTSD, there is also hope.

“There are a number of treatment and support options for treating PTSD,” Mathis says.

“Those suspecting they or a family member or a friend are experiencing symptoms related to PTSD should discuss this with their GP and seek a referral to a psychologist. A psychologist can assess and provide appropriate and individual treatment. In conjunction with your GP there may be medication that is prescribed to assist in the management of the symptoms while undergoing psychological treatment,” she says.

There are also a number of organisations that can provide support, including beyondblue, LifelinePhoenix AustraliaSANE Australia and Victims of Crime.

Parr was encouraged to talk to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about his PTSD.


Starts at 60 would like to thank Matthew Parr for sharing his personal story.

Do you suffer PTSD or know somebody who does? We’re eager to know what treatment worked best for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

  1. Paul  

    One of the failings of our current Health System in addressing PTSD (or any other mental illness) is that a more life balanced approach needs to be taken. I suffer from PTSD, Depression and social anxiety – as well as a number of other medical conditions – brought on by living in denial for 30 plus years about the severe sexual and physical abuse I suffered as a child.
    To truly help those with PTSD a more balanced approach is needed – not just a focus on the mental aspects, with medication and psychological treatments. There are another 4 key areas of a persons life that are also severely impacted, yet are not taken into consideration not addressed. As a consequence of suffering some form of mental illness, a persons emotional, physical, social/spiritual and financial conditions are also impaired.
    For example, myself receive treatment and medication for my PTSD, Depression etc, though nothing is done on the other four areas. Physically, I gained considerable weight as a result of the medication, destroying what little self image I had, plus with the other medical conditions, exercise etc has not been possible, nor have these medical conditions been addressed, as everyone is focused on the mental aspects. As a result of having a very poor self image (read esteem etc), I am now socially and spiritually isolated and this only compounds the effects of the mental illness. Hence my emotional balance is non-existant. Financially I am bankrupt as the disability pension is not sufficient to survive on, working is now almost impossible (add to that the age barrier once you are over 50) and what you find is a person who is bankrupt on all 5 levels – Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical and Financial.
    The outcome is an increase in the suicide rate as life is out of balance and is too hard to manage.

    • Paul, you really hit on something I never think about-the need to treat all the problems we have in a balanced approach. Kind of like treating mind-body-spirit as one unit. How many doctors even understand the concept? As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, I struggle with these things, too. Quite often it feels like a losing battle. But I’ve found staying connected to other survivors is the best life-line I’ve found so far. I learn a lot and feel like there’s much I can share, too. Thanks for your comment here today.

  2. I was king hit by a drugged out teenager 3 1/2 years ago resulting in brain surgery, he got one year good behaviour bond, l am left with serious PTSD among other problems. PTSD is an insidious problem that won’t quit and destroys your life. It is so hard when people still think this is not real.

    • Your story is heartbreaking, Keith. Such a senseless act by this teen–leaving you with a lifetime of of pain. Yes, PTSD is real, but people don’t understand it. I’ve worked hard to cover mine and look “normal” to make other people comfortable. It actually makes it worse. Finding others who understand helps a lot. (I told a little of my issue in a comment here.) Thank you for talking about it. There are some of us who get it.

  3. Many people suffer PTSD and don’t realize it. Oftentimes they get pigeonholed as mentally ill without getting to the crux of what is causing them to isolate. They suffer panic attacks, nightmares, have the inability to function in society, as well as become victims of substance abuse and homelessness.

    As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, I still live with the repercussions, and PTSD is one of them. Fear of being inside vehicles (the result of a maniacal father requiring taking the family on terrifying car rides). The inability to trust because of years of sexual abuse is the most damaging, and doesn’t allow for relationships inside or outside the family.

    I’ve found that most doctors don’t have a true understanding of PTSD. They treat it more like depression that a pill will help. I’ve tried many and they usually don’t. The most helpful thing, I’ve found, is connecting with other PTSD sufferers, which I do on my blog Advocating for other abuse survivors, raising awareness about emotional disorders, is like talk therapy.

    I have found, for myself, that when I stopped fighting the idea of having PTSD, accepting the fact that I might always have it, I could then look at ways to ‘manage’ it. Getting in touch with the symptoms when they begin, sitting with them (lots of deep breathing!) can ward off full-blown attacks.

    Yes, PTSD is very real.

  4. Carolyn Henderson  

    I think Prince Harry describe PTSD well , it is like horror slides filed away , then popping up with out warning then your back in the horror helpless again.
    I am a full time carer for a child who suffers with PTSD we have good times then hell times for this child. At least now she only screams in her sleep she isn’t aware she does this but I am. Her eyes are black for the want of good sleep she is exhausted but doesn’t understand why.
    I have purchased a dog that was bred to be a companion for PTSD victims. That has made a huge difference..doesn’t stop the flash backs but she copes better.
    I had to give up work to care for this child I was promised that DHS would pay for all medical treatment until child was 18 , I was promise that DHS would assist with this care. IF I had waited for their assistance this child would be back in full time care. I pay for all medical costs which will be ongoing for the rest of the child’s life.

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