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Putting a face to PTSD
Hamilton Fire Brigade volunteer Peter Green has a good idea of what the face of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) looks like.
By David Ferguson
Peter, or Greeny to many of the people he knows in CFA, sees it every day when he looks in the mirror.
Unknowingly, Peter was struggling with the onset of PTSD for several years before it hit home hard. Attending a difficult car accident on the outskirts of Hamilton in February 2016 was the traumatic incident that tipped Peter’s bucket over and has had him fighting a war with himself mentally and physically since.
As part of his recovery and strong desire to try to make sure other firefighters and brigade members don’t go through the same difficulties, Peter has developed a presentation about his experiences. He has given his presentation to Warrnambool and Portland brigades and, in mid-August, he presented to members of his own brigade and neighbouring brigades Grange and North Hamilton.
“Although the idea and concept was easy to come up with, the delivery to a group of your peers was somewhat daunting to say the least,” said Peter. “The medical fraternity has referred to me as very determined (my wife calls me stubborn) and with that in mind I was determined to try to make a difference to at least one person’s life.
“I joined CFA to make a difference and, although I may not be able to do that on the fireground anymore, I can help others with what I have to say about mental health.”
The presentation is quite in-depth and very personal. Peter holds nothing back. “I’ve never been very good at sugar coating things or been particularly subtle, and I treat my story, message and delivery the same way. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) some firefighter habits don’t change.”
Inspired and guided partly by District 4 Operations Officer Terry Heafield and with input from CFA’s Wellbeing team, the presentation is more than just Greeny telling his story. It covers the ‘how to’ about support and finding the help that can sometimes seem so hard to find.
The icing on the cake and his key support in his journey and presentations is his wife Aimee. While Aimee stands back a bit during the presentation, she’s happy to answer questions and provide a first-hand insight into a partner’s viewpoint. As we know, it’s often the partners and family of affected people who pick up on the issues first.
“You notice little things over time that change, for example behaviours and activities, and you wonder why they have changed or stopped altogether,” said Aimee. “You can bring up these changes with the person, or suggest that you think something may not be right. However, it’s not until they realise it, or have a feeling for themselves, that you can really help.
“I had mentioned PTSD to Pete a few times, knowing the trauma he had witnessed in the past. But it wasn’t until we were on this journey and had more knowledge that we could really say, ‘yep it’s been there a while’.”
Hamilton brigade Captain Mal Anderson was pleased to host Peter at the brigade’s station.
“It was obviously a challenge for Pete to stand up in front of the brigade and talk openly about what he and Aimee have been through since February 2016,” Mal said. “I think we can all take something from his presentation.
“We need to recognise and actively work towards making PTSD, and mental health more broadly, part of our first-aid procedure during incidents and move away from not being able to discuss the area of mental health to ensure members can get support early.”
As Peter continues his journey with PTSD and a new normal, he welcomes approaches from brigades and groups as well as other groups outside CFA who may wish to hear his story.
“If I can stop one person from having to go through what I do on a daily basis, then the efforts involved in doing this presentation will be worth it. Let’s change the face of PTSD.”