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Post Traumatic Stress disorder and children
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a recognised condition in the 21st Century. In the past it was not. In simple terms it can be the after effects of trauma. That trauma may be experienced in war, working life, home life or in many instances. It is most commonly associated with military personnel and emergency services personnel who have been present or actively involved in distressing incidents.
Although it is a recognised condition these days it is not always treat appropriately. Some sufferers are loathe to come forward. Some men in particular do not want to show a vulnerable side.
Many class PTSD as a form of mental illness which in common with others will carry a stigma. This can deter people from asking for help until it is already too late.
Yesterday, December 14, 2012, a young man killed his mother in Connecticut and then went on a killing spree at the school where she had worked.20 children aged between 5 and 10 plus six adults were killed. One more person died and that was Adam Lanza the shooter. He ultimately turned the gun on himself.
The terrible events of yesterday set me thinking about many issues, especially gun control in the USA. It also reopened old wounds regarding PTSD.
This blogger's father suffered PTSD throughout her childhood. It was not given that name nor treat as such then but rather a vague mental illness.
Serving as an Infantry soldier between 1940 and 1947 in India, Burma and other regions of the Middle East his was not an easy war. You may say it never is but in some ways that is not true. There are always levels of distress and our in built ability to cope varies from person to person.
One of my work colleagues would regularly recall his own war time exploits. As a very young man at the time, serving with the Royal Engineers building and repairing bridges, his War was a time of youthful exuberance. It was still a testing time but not the same as hand to hand fighting in swamps and worse. Dad did not discuss the War.
Seven years is a long time for such involvement and it takes its toll in many ways. First Dad was, we were told, still suffering for his war time malaria. His health varied throughout our childhood and there were times when life was not easy. This was true for many children at the time.
Today my thoughts went back to when my father finally felt he could bear life no more. I was aged 14 and arrived home as the terrible events unfolded. I was whisked into a neighbour's house until the scene was tidied up. When I was able to go home and see my mother the news devastated me. A failed suicide attempt. Not a cry for help but a serious attempt. Dad had fought the ambulance staff as they tried to get him into the vehicle and admitted to hospital.
I will not go into grisly details. That is not the point of this. It is aimed at showing the effect one person's health can have on others, especially children. It is also used to illustrate how hard it is to move on from trauma. (To this day I never buy meat from a butcher's shop but a supermarket where it is nicely wrapped and alien. Although the blood that was left behind from Dad had been cleaned away by a neighbour the smell could not be disguised. A mixture of blood and bleach haunted me for years.)
Prior to this incident there had been problems from time to time but this was the most serious. There had been a father of a girl at our school who had flipped and it was something I worried about. Now this had happened and it was all such a mess.
My Mum was never a well woman and I was always a feisty, independent soul, at least on the surface. In reality I was shy and probably too thoughtful. My brother did not live at home so I said I would go and tell him. I remember oh so well walking about 25 minutes across town crying all the way, in a daze. Still dressed in my school uniform, beret askew on my head, not caring what I looked like to the world.
All of that happened 46 years ago. To this day it is fresh in my mind when I let it be. For many years it was something I could not talk about. Dad was having treatment for "mental health issues" at the time but the system failed him. Even then.
That period of ill health had followed a 30ft fall from a scaffold at work which had knocked him literally for six. As a building worker he was very physically fit but after that fall his health was never the same.
One of the main ways the system failed him was not recognising what was wrong. This led to inappropriate treatments, hospitalisation and a worsening of his condition. It affected us, his family, in many ways physically, mentally and financially, plus it devastated him.
Following his failed suicide Dad was allowed home from hospital for weekend visits, as long as someone collected him. Once again I stepped up to the mark. Who else was there? I knew he needed to be home with us, albeit briefly, and so it had to be done. Early each Saturday morning I would take a bus for a 30 minute journey to collect Dad
Three years later Dad died from cancer. We always had some ideas that his fall and suicide attempt had played a part. He was aged 55.
PTSD and children
These days PTSD is treat quickly if it can be. It still may need a person to seek help. The support structure for first responders and the like usually includes counselling.
After the Second World War people such as my father were sent home, job done. That was it. 7 years of conscripted service over. Many of these people wanted to forget their experiences but that proved the hardest task of all.
Talking through trauma is one of the best ways to cope with PTSD. How will those affected directly by yesterday's killings move on? The answer is many will not. It will be a terrible burden to bear for the bereaved parents.
But what about the kids?
Children are often thought to be resilient. Hardy little souls who quickly bounce back. Those affected with the Sandy Hook School murders will receive counselling and more. They may still find it hard to put this tragedy to rest. It could haunt them for the rest of their lives.
We adults often forget that children are listening and watching to what unfolds before them. Responsibility can be good but there is a time to be a child. Many readers will have had similar or worse experiences I know.
From experience all I can say is never underestimate the affect incidents have on children. An adult's PTSD may become a child's cross to bear, when it is in the family. A child them-self may suffer from PTSD even at a young age.
Adam Lanza who has been identified as the deceased shooter in yesterday's murders apparently suffered a great deal following the break up of his parents, which happened when he was aged 10. The reason for the killings is not known but was he another person who was damaged goods, from childhood? With an easy gun culture in the USA how many more tragedies are waiting to happen?
If you think that you, a child or a loved one may be suffering from the effects of PTSD contact a health professional.
Thoughts go to those left behind in Connecticut. It was apparently a heart warming type of community which hopefully will help the people draw on each others strength. Yes those who survived this dreadful tragedy are the "lucky" ones but right now it may feel anything but
Sandy Hook updates
Sunday December 16, 2012
The names of those killed have been released. All the children were aged either 6 or 7. One of those is believed to be a British boy whose family moved into the area two years ago. His brother survived the attack.
Police working on the case say that they have found enough evidence at the Lanza family home to indicate a motive. In reality of course there is no justification for any such killing spree.
The latest hard information appears to be that Lanza's mother was not employed at the school but rather was unemployed. He allegedly drove five miles to the school where he and his mother were unknown.The information may change again though.
The ins and outs of this story may prove hard to resolve. What really happened that day may never really be known apart from the brutal shootings. Lessons must be learned.