Picking Up The Peaces

Raising National Awareness About PTSD

Churchill Fellowship to Study PTSD Stigma

Vice President and founder of Picking up the Peaces, Kate Tonacia, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study stigma about PTSD.

The Churchill Trust website says: “Since its inception The Churchill Trust has awarded Churchill Fellowships to over 3,500 Australians who, like Churchill, are innovative, filled with a spirit of determination and possess a strong desire to benefit their community.

“Churchill Fellowships allow you to design your own research project, travel the world and further your knowledge in your chosen field, before returning to make a real contribution to Australian society.”

Kate will travel to Europe and North America next year to meet leading practitioners and researchers into PTSD stigma, and investigate best practice that she can bring back and promote in Australia.

Congratulations Katie, one of only four recipients in the ACT this year!

PTSD Fraud

One of the biggest concerns among uniformed services management is the potential for fraud among people making out they have PTSD as a way to weasel compensation out of the system.

Our latest paper, Detecting Fraudulent Claims of PTSD in Uniformed Services, addresses the issue.

PTSD Training a Resounding Success

The first PTSD Education Program Volunteer Educator (VE) training workshops are finished… and the first 10 graduates are ready to give sessions.

It was an intense emotional rollercoaster ride as they learnt the facts about post traumatic stress disorder and how to present them in a concise way that connects with their audience.

But the real challenge came when they had to confront the demons that have governed their lives and verbalise their personal experience. For each VE either lives with their own PTSD, or cares for someone who does. And getting up and talking about that deep inner turmoil is a hugely courageous step.

The progress each trainee made during the course was remarkable, many realising insights that had eluded them for years, and most finding a healing they had not expected.

The few who have heard the sessions so far have been profoundly affected. These stories touch the heartstrings. Changes will be measured, but indications are very strong that the lived experiences of our VEs will change lives, and save lives.

They are geared simply to educating people about what it’s like to live with Australia’s most common mental disorder, how to pick it, and what to do about it.

The message is that PTSD is an injury. And like any injury, the sooner you acknowledge it and get it seen to, the sooner you’ll get over it.

Congratulations to our VEs – PUTP is immensely proud of you, your courage, and your contribution. Thank you!

There is more information on our PTSD training page.

Flood Trauma Support

The team at Picking Up The Peaces express our sincere sadness for those involved in the Queensland floods, the floods in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia, and the bushfires in Western Australia. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

These Floods and their Effects are Traumatic

These devastating floods will have an overwhelming impact on the many people involved, including emergency service workers and volunteers, either because they or a loved one have been directly affected or because they have witnessed the destruction, death or injuries that have occurred. People watching or listening to the media coverage can also be affected as the images can reactivate painful memories of similar disasters from their past. While getting information is important, watching or listening to news too regularly can re-traumatise some people.

Normal Emotional Responses are Difficult for Everyone

The feelings of confusion and disorientation, fear, sadness and anger are completely normal reactions. Some people may also experience a sense of extreme guilt (known as survivor guilt) when their lives or homes have been spared, while their neighbours’ and friends’ may not have. Sleeping and concentrating will be difficult. It is very important at this time to try to have regular meals, some rest and sleep if possible. Seeking support from family and friends and establishing a safe environment and routine will assist in a quicker recovery.

When Effects Last too Long or Interfere with Functioning

With time these reactions will slowly lessen for most people and life will slowly fall back into place, however for some, these emotions can last longer and start interfering with their ability to return to normal routine. If those affected are still agitated and confused and begin displaying uncharacteristic behaviours such as sudden extremes of anger, fear, sadness, helplessness and emotional withdrawal, this could be a sign that they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Having PTSD means that Traumatic Responses are Triggered and Re-Experienced Over and Over Again

Self-medicating with the use of drugs, alcohol or work is common and simple tasks will become difficult as fatigue, flashbacks and nightmares occur. A sudden downfall of rain or clap of thunder can take those suffering PTSD into complete terror, as they will feel like they are reliving the floods all over again. Relationships are often stretched to the limits, as financial difficulties and the loss of livelihood can add even more stress for those experiencing PTSD.

Taking Care of Yourself Helps Recovery

People who have been through these floods need time to manage their distress and cope with what they have been through or witnessed. However, those who experience severe distress or who are finding it hard to cope should talk to a health professional – a GP or community health centre is a good place to start. The flood disaster relief have also established professional counsellors to assist.

Seek Help From Professionals and Supportive Family/ Friends – It is a Bad Idea to Try to Deal with this Alone

If you, or someone you know have been affected by the floods and are experiencing difficulties finding assistance ask a friend or family member to help. Their thoughts will be clearer and they’ll be able to assist with making appointments. The message is “Don’t be afraid to seek help”. You are experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Talking to family and friends can be very beneficial also.

Emergency service personnel should contact their EAP or HR department and utilise the services provided.

If you, or someone you know is feeling very stressed and unable to cope please call Lifeline on 131114

For further information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder look around this site – www.pickingupthepeaces.org.au . There are links in the sidebar and articles here.

PTSD Awareness Day Brings Positive Results

The 3rd National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Day walk around Lake Burley Griffin last Sunday is done.

2010 National PTSD Awareness Day

Police horses and walkers gather at Canberra"s Lake Burley Griffin for the 2010 National PTSD Awareness Day walk

While the organisers are still shaking off the effects of the hard work they put in, the after-event stories are starting to trickle in.

And they are what make the day worthwhile.

Sometimes the focus seems to be on the turnout for the actual event, but it’s the ‘it changed my life‘ stories that come in afterwards that validate the enormous effort such a few volunteers put in to stage the day.

This year they include (as usual!) stories of:

  • one or more individuals who have stepped into a public arena for the first time, sometimes in years,
  • people who reported finding a ‘spiritual home’ among people who understand what their lives are like,
  • people who have contracted to seek the help they’ve been avoiding, and
  • still others who call late at night with night terrors who, at last, have someone to talk to.

You can’t put a price on results like those.

So, although numbers were down this year, the 2010 National PTSD Awareness Day was definitely a success.

Police horses led the walk, and officers joined emergency services, defence personnel and the public to draw attention to the disorder that cripples so many lives in the ACT. In fact, anxiety disorders in the ACT are 35% higher than the national average, and our residents are more likely than the rest of the country to suffer in silence and do nothing about it.

PTSD is one of those disorders that can sneak under the radar, changing the lives of even the most resilient people. Some of the most common symptoms are difficulty sleeping, flashbacks to traumatic events, an inability to relax, and angering at the slightest provocation.

One of the big messages of the day came from entertainer and Picking Up The Peaces patron Normie Rowe, who launched Sunday’s walk. “If you or a workmate has any of those symptoms, or has changed from their former personality,” he said, “encourage them to seek help. Like any injury, the sooner you get it treated, the easier it is to fix.”

PUTP president Laurie Drake said, “We were delighted by the number of people who approached us for literature and more direct help. The publicity obviously prompted people who had been suffering alone to come out and just check out the scene.

“The presence of uniformed personnel helped to create a safe environment, and they were able to pluck up the courage to come into the circle. A number told us afterwards just how comforting it had been to talk to people who understood just what they were living with.”

If you’d like to explore the community further, the Canberra PTSD Support Group meets for a noon BBQ on the last Sunday of every month at the Vietnam Veterans & Veterans Federation premises at 9 Burkitt St, Page. Everyone with an interest in PTSD (not just veterans) is welcome.

Persistance with PTSD

We’ve added a 3 minute video on the value of persistance when faced with PTSD.

It was made as part of the Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) project Moving Minds.

Living With PTSD?

You are not alone… and next weekend you are welcome to join with other people living with post traumatic stress disorder at the first meeting of a Canberra PTSD Support Group.

Organised by Picking Up The Peaces and the Vietnam Veterans and Veterans Federation ACT, the support group is for anyone experiencing PTSD, or caring for someone with PTSD.

According to the Support Groups Association of WA, a Support Group (also known as a mutual aid or self help group) is a tool for the empowerment of individuals who share common issues and are challenged by similar life situations. By coming together, people can provide mutual support and take the steps necessary to make positive changes in their lives.

“Support Groups become banks of knowledge and experience, enabling people to cope and solve problems. Feelings of self worth are increased, isolation is reduced and doors of opportunity and optimism are opened.”

We will meet at the VV&VF premises at 9 Burkitt St, Page. Over a barbeque lunch in the Garden of Peace we can get to know one another and our challenges, and discuss how best the support group can serve members’ needs.

Date: Sunday 28
Time: 11.30 am for a noon barbeque
Venue: VV&VF Stephen King Memorial Centre, 9 Burkitt St, Page
Map: http://www.whereis.com/?id=22CF14941049EE
Cost: Free. A BBQ lunch will be available for $10 a head.

Further information: 6255 1599 or info@pickingupthepeaces.org.au

Please invite anyone you think might be interested.

Professor Creamer Audio Added

The 50 minute audio of the Alice Barber Lecture on “Psychological Recovery From Trauma – Battlefields to Bushfires“, delivered by Professor Mark Creamer, Director of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Health, has been posted.  In it, he discusses trauma from historical and psychological perspectives, and makes several key points. It’s at the bottom of the media page.

Top 5 Reasons PTSD Sufferers Don’t Seek Help

Too many war veterans avoid seeking help for their post traumatic stress disorder. A Department of Veterans’ Affairs trial conducted by the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health in Victoria has identified the top five reasons why. They are:

  • Difficulty accepting that they have a mental health problem;
  • Uncertainty about what help is available;
  • Concerns about stigma;
  • Mistrust of health professionals; and
  • A belief that ‘I should be able to handle this alone’.

Seizing on those findings, the initiative developed and trialled some innovative ways to encourage veterans and former serving members in the Barwon South-Western Health Region to seek help with their mental health problems.

Results of the trial are yet to be released, but ACPMH psychologist Andrea Phelps told a DVA research seminar last week that the trial’s intervention goals and key messages were:

1. Increase awareness of mental health issues, services and benefits of treatment
- you can feel more like your old self and enjoy life;
- it’s never too early nor too late to get help
2. Increase acceptability of mental health care
- you’re not alone
- it takes courage to get help
3. Increase accessibility of mental health care
- treatment is available locally
- if you have someone you are concerned about they may need a nudge to get the help they need.

The trial’s website: http://howareyoutravelling.org.au/

This model is similar to the approach adopted in Picking Up The Peaces’ Strategic Plan a year ago, and we have opened discussions for access to findings and lessons learned.

Treatment Best Practice

The DVA Research Seminar also included updates on the implementation of PTSD best practice in VVCS, and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).

Anne-Laure Couinueau, who leads the DVA Training for Mental Health Practitioners Initiative at ACPMH, said that about 25% of people with PTSD receive ‘evidence-based treatment’, compared with 20% in the US.

She said they’d found that the old model of disseminating research findings to practitioners was not sufficient, because practitioners tended not to adopt the recommended best practice.

One reason was that the recommended exposure therapies (de-sensitisation)were painful to both the patient and the practitioner.

Practitioners tended to doubt their own competence, and coupled with a concern for their clients, that was a major limitation on adoption of best practice.

In future, practitioners and clients will be encouraged to generate strategies that suit the individual. The team will evaluate a model that seeks to engage staff and management, identifies barriers and incentives, and provides training and followups.


Psychology researcher Delyth Lloyd said the joint ACPMH-VVCS Cognitive Processing Therapy study examines the effectiveness of CPT as a potentially potent treatment for combat-related PTSD in Australian veterans. It also seeks to establish whether community based clinicians such as VVCS counsellors can be effectively trained in CPT and apply it in VVCS centres.

She said Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and CPT are the gold standard therapies for PTSD. This, however, is the world’s first community trial of CPT.

CPT targets five primary themes – safety, trust, power, self-esteem and intimacy. What appeals to clients is that is a time-limited treatment – 12 sessions – rather than an open-ended arrangement.

PTSD Awareness Day Raises the Profile

What a blast! The Second National PTSD Awareness Day on Saturday attracted twice as many people as last year, and networking, credibility and profile of the disorder got a huge boost.

ACT emergency services and Defence sent some of their top people, and there were hundreds of members from SES, RFS and Defence in uniform flying the flag. Veterans, police – including the Police Post-Trauma Support Group from Wilberforce, volunteers and horses – fire brigade, Salvation Army and ordinary people swelled the ranks.

Around 1000 people listened to our speakers, spent time at the community stalls and emergency services/defence vehicles, listened to Loose Connections and Veterans Voices, and walked around the lake to ‘stomp out the stigma’ of PTSD.

Medical and political leaders used the occasion to call on Australians to learn to recognise the basic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

The Clinical Director of Acute Services in the ACT, Dr Len Lambeth, the Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs, Mr Alan Griffin, ACT Health Minister Ms Katy Gallagher, and the Acting Commander Joint Health, Australian Defence Force, Commodore Robyn Walker, urged ‘ordinary people’ to accept that PTSD is diagnosed in more than 1.4 million Australians in any one year.

It’s the message Picking Up The Peaces has been sending since we began. ‘Ordinary people’ – families, workmates and GPs, are best placed to see the changes wrought by trauma and push their loved ones to seek help.

Openly acknowledging PTSD – “It’s an illness, not a weakness,” Dr Lambeth said – will also help overcome the self-imposed stigma that prevents many people from seeking help.

The number of organisations who provided time, expertise, funds and contributions in kind was immense. In fact, the way the community got behind the Awareness Day, and the campaign, was inspiring. The need for this campaign and its value to the community, was underlined at every turn.

We’ll have photos available shortly, and video footage. In fact, we’ll also be able to reveal parts of an upcoming project with televised interviews shot during the event.

Attendees were also surveyed on their experience with PTSD. This is part of another project to gather hard data which will be used to further the campaign. If you have not already done so, click here and go complete the online version. Every response counts.

Organisers will now analyse what worked and what didn’t, with a view to templating the organisation required to stage such an event. That will be made available to people who already want to stage their own events in other states.

So if you have any suggestions on how to make the 3rd PTSD Awareness Day bigger, better and more effective, please let us know.

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