Last week was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day, with the entire month of June dedicated to PTSD Awareness generally. Whilst acknowledged in the US, by US Senate, it is no less relevant in Australia. On the 28th June, I had the opportunity to join my colleagues, Scott Bradford, Stefan Harrer, Nick Kwiatkowski and Ned Kanan, along with the Board Director from Soldier On, Hugh Riminton, tell the story of why PTSD is real, and how technology is now part of the solution.
ThinkForum is a global IBM event where we bring to life stories of how technology is quite literally changing lives. My role was that of Cognitive Studio Director – through a series of activations, we told stories on how cognitive technology is solving everything from melanoma, to trauma, to public safety, to wealth management, education, disability services and even transactions via Blockchain.
The story of course, which touched my heart the most, was the Outthink Trauma activation. This studio was designed to tell the story of why PTSD is real, to showcase how technology can be used to detect and help treat mental illness created by trauma, and explain how.
PTSD can be caused by any form of trauma – from road accidents, to assault and abuse, to work related trauma most often in the military, firefighters and police force. I have previously shared my brother’s journey with PTSD, watching as his soul slowly slipped away until he made his decision in January 2014 to end his fight, and his life. And he is not alone. Since the year 2000, 240 men and women from the ADF alone have taken their lives, broken and scarred from battle scars. (Source: Australian Veterans Suicide Register)
I have heard PTSD being called anxiety to depression. Let’s be clear, PTSD is an extreme form of mental illness created by trauma. The trauma results in extreme feelings of horror, helplessness and fear. Imagine not being able to go into the butchers because the smell of meat reminds you of dying human flesh. Imagine not being able to walk down the street because a backfiring car sounds like gun fire and will quite simply make you drop to the ground. Imagine not being able to sleep again because whenever you do the memories that haunt you come back in vivid scenes. Those with PTSD also experience other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
National PTSD Awareness Day is created to help others understand the symptoms and to seek help. The following booklet was created by the US VA and is helpful in understanding what PTSD is, and treatments available.
Soldier On is a charity founded in 2012, in memory of Lieutenant Michael Fussell, who was killed in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2008. Solder On was built on a principal of ensuring all our brave sailors, airmen and airwomen, and soldiers, could you cared for and lead fulfilling and successful lives, In the first year, Soldier On, assisted 20 veterans in three states with a Rehabilitation Centre established in Adelaide. By 2015, 500 veterans a month were supported and two new centres were launched – one in Canberra and one in Sydney. This year thousands more will be supported, with centres established in Melbourne, Perth, Currumbin and many more places.
The support provided includes
– Wellness: Exercise, Psychological and rehabilitation programs
– Community Programs: Family Support, Social Activities and links to other amazing organisations helping the cause
– Future Pursuits: Educational Support, Employment support and programs to enable veterans to volunteer their services to help and serve the community – often the very reason many of them joined the ADF
– Reintegration and Rehabilitation Centres : These centres often offer all the above services as well as a meetup point for those in despair.
In watching my brother and his journey with PTSD, wellness was a critical part in keeping him healthy. When he stopped exercise, his strength and resiliency immediately declined. He did not have access to the educational and employment support he needed and as his primary carer, I did not have the information and support I needed to be the best support I could be. I loved him, I cried with him, I held him and I supported him. But I did not understand what I was really doing, or where to get more information and help. And whilst Dan created a small social group, by the time he left this earth, he had withdrawn from most of them. Having a social community to keep an eye on high risk changes in behavior could be invaluable. And of course, I immediately begin thinking how technology could play a role in this in the future.
It was humbling to have Hugh Riminton with IBM at ThinkForum. Hugh bought sincere understanding on PTSD and the importance of programs to understand, diagnose and treat. He provided stories on why organisations like Soldier On exist. Afterall, they are helping 1000s of people every month!!! And remember 240 serving veterans since 2000 have taken their lives (and this does not include those who have been discharged). Meanwhile, the IBM team were able to show the way in which it is now possible to build insight into the changes in ECG brain waves, through the collection of the data created by a person’s brain, in moments of calm, and compare this to the brain data created when in active moment. Put simply, when you can compare how the brain reacts in moments of calm and compare this to moments of extreme stress or trauma, you can begin to detect and predict those most vulnerable from PTSD. Now extend this, what if you could use these senses in the treatment of those with PTSD and begin to understand the triggers, how PTSD is experienced by the individual and more effectively personalise treatment for every person, through rehabilitation centres such as those owned and operated by Soldier On.
It is not often you get the opportunity to tell a story that is so personal, at a work event. But last week, with team IBM, it was possible to share the story of PTSD, of life and loss, and of my brother Dan. He may not be here anymore, but to be able to give him a voice, to be able to put topics like PTSD on the corporate table and share the work of amazing individuals like Scott, Stefan, Nick and Hugh is extremely humbling and very much rewarding.
So on this PTSD awareness day, I honour the work of amazing organisations like Soldier On and amazing colleagues like Scott, Nick and Stefan.
I will celebrate cognitive technology and all it offers to help diagnose and treat those who are in need of our love and support.
And I remember Dan. Because my purpose is to give him a voice, and ensure his comrades and mates get the care they need – and now very much possible .
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Michelle Zamora is a Marketing Leader with a passion for business strategy, data, content, customer insights and engagement, and developing awesome talent. Views expressed are her personal, individual and unique perspectives, and not that of her employer.