Standing up for Canberra

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 2012

I rise tonight to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder and the tremendous work being done by two organisations to raise awareness of this disorder in Australia. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a condition that occurs as a result of trauma. If a person reacts to a traumatic situation or catastrophic event with intense fear, helplessness or horror they may develop ongoing problems; that is post-traumatic stress disorder. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops this disorder, but many do. While there is a lot of research still being undertaken as to why some people develop it and some people do not, what is known is that the disorder affects Australians from all walks of life. There is a critical need to raise awareness and understanding about the condition and how it affects those who have it and their families and friends.

Exactly how many Australians experience the disorder at any one time varies, but Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests about 1.4 million people, or between three and eight per cent of the Australian population, live with this disorder. The largest group of Australians with this disorder are those who have survived car accidents. Those Australians who have put their life on the line during the course of their work face the highest risks of experiencing the disorder. They include our defence personnel, police officers, paramedics, firefighters, emergency service workers and volunteers. Also at highest risk are those subjected to domestic incidents and to violent crimes such as sexual assault. This makes the disorder one of the major health and wellbeing issues we face. The impacts are devastating. The disorder can tear families apart and destroy careers and lives. The symptoms can include recurrent nightmares about traumatic events, flashbacks, rage outbursts, anxiety, depression, insomnia and out-of-character drinking and drug use.

People living with this disorder often avoid friends, family and colleagues and even their workplaces and homes as a coping mechanism to help them stop reliving traumatic memories. The disorder can also lead to physical illnesses, such as skin rashes, stomach complaints, cardiovascular problems, asthma, headaches, diabetes and dental problems.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very complicated illness and can occur alongside or exacerbate other types of illnesses. This is partly why it is very hard to diagnose and why there is a lot of stigma and ignorance about it. Most cases can be treated with medication or psychotherapy or a combination of both. However, the symptoms can last for months, years or decades, and they can be episodic. As with many other health conditions, early diagnosis and treatment is critical, as is the support of family, friends and workmates.

Although this disorder is not strictly a mental health condition, it shares a lot of similarities with mental illness, such as the stigma and misunderstanding about its causes and treatment. That is why Australia's two main post-traumatic stress disorder organisations have joined together to launch Stand Tall and establish a national awareness event to promote and educate all Australians about the disorder. Picking Up The Peaces is a national organisation, based here in Canberra, that is campaigning to raise awareness and increase understanding about post-traumatic stress disorder. It has done an amazing job of producing information and educational material, and it has created a website——designed to educate and assist anyone and everyone touched by the disorder. It is working with Tony Dell, a Vietnam veteran and former Australian test cricketer, who is the driving force behind the national awareness campaign Stand Tall. Tony Dell is the initiator of Stand Tall, which will be launched at Manuka Oval in my electorate of Canberra on Sunday 25 November this year.

This national awareness campaign is being backed by Cricket Australia, the Australian Defence Force, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Mental Health Council of Australia and many prominent Australians. It is hoped that the Stand Tall launch at Manuka Oval will be similar to the promotional event at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the McGrath Foundation. Manuka Oval will be a sea of orange, which is the colour of posttraumatic stress disorder awareness. The organisers are anticipating a crowd of 10,000 to witness a day of cricket, soldiers and music.

I encourage everyone in the parliament to support the success of Stand Tall and to take part in it. We need to support our defence force personnel, all police officers and the thousands of SES workers and volunteers who rescue and help Australians when they are threatened by flood, fire and other disasters.

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