PTSD: The signs to watch out for

As the tragedy of Grenfell unfolded in front of the nation’s eyes, the bravery of the hundreds of firefighters battling the tower block blaze was there for all to see.

What remains unseen however, is the traumatic aftermath for those who waded into the Kensington fire, and the possibility of it triggering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although it was first coined during diagnosis by veterans from the Vietnam War, its roots were planted long before.

It has also appeared in other guises, namely post-traumatic stress syndrome, shell shock, battle fatigue and combat stress. As Grenfell and countless other traumatic events have proved, post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t limited just to war-related scenarios.

With that in mind, what is it you need to be on the lookout for when judging if you, or a colleague has PTSD?

Christian Hughes, an NHS counsellor specialising in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, has pinpointed the following as factors FBU members should be watching out for:

  • Intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares.
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
  • Avoiding places, people, and activities that are reminders of the event.
  • Ruminating about the event as though our mind is trying to find a different outcome.
  • Emotional numbness. Unable to feel very much at all and struggling to connect with the

people and activities that we value.

Mr Hughes says he has worked with many people who have been affected by terrifying life-threatening events like Grenfell.

He said: “I have worked with emergency workers and first responders who have courageously put others ahead of themselves by running into danger to save lives. The Grenfell fire was historic in its scale and sadly, many of the people affected will be the firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way.

“That is why caring for yourself and your colleagues is vital after such an event. The mental health of you and your colleagues is as important as the maintenance of your equipment in keeping you safe, well and effective. You are best placed to notice any changes in yourself, or those around you, following an event like Grenfell.

“Staying alert to changes can mean getting help early, minimising distress and reducing the impact on individuals lives and the functioning of your team.

“Many people will feel shaken for up to a month after a life-threatening event like Grenfell, but if things are not settling, noticing the signs it is turning into something more serious, like PTSD, is vital.”

If you notice any of these difficulties then help is available. Your GP can refer you, or you may be able to self-refer, to a local NHS Psychological Therapy service.

You can find the details on the NHS Choices website www.nhs.uk along with more details about PTSD and other mental health conditions.

Do not suffer in silence, the sooner you get access to help the sooner you can be helped.

  • Tragedies can affect us in many different ways, and support is available if you need it. If you’re worried about your colleague, or you would like to talk to someone yourself, consider speaking to a professional.  
  • On www.counselling-directory.org.uk, you can find a nationwide database of qualified counsellors and psychotherapists; fact sheets and FAQs to explain common mental health concerns and types of therapy.

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