February 21st, 2019

PTSD sufferers are not alone

By Submitted Article on October 11, 2018.

Austin Mardon

and Victoria Throckmorton

In her early 30s, Catherine Mardon was an ambitious and hard-working lawyer practising in the United States. However, in 1991, as she was preparing to testify against a white supremacy group for mortgage scams in a criminal court, her career came to a halt when she was stabbed 17 times and pushed down a flight of stairs by one of the group’s members. The brutal attack not only left her physically disabled with limited mobility but also with brain damage and severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying and traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or being sexually assaulted. In Catherine’s case, she was physically attacked with the intent of being killed. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include intrusive flashbacks of the event, recurring nightmares, feeling detached and hopeless, displaying aggressive behaviour, and avoiding talking about the event or places, activities and people that remind the individual of the event. PTSD is not uncommon and, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2016, Canada has the highest rates of PTSD within the 24 countries that were studied. Approximately 9.2 per cent of Canadians will live with PTSD.

Despite a significant portion of the population being affected by PTSD, many suffer in silence due to stigma and self-shame. PTSD is commonly associated with combat veterans and police officers and is wrongly thought to cause violent outbursts. While flashbacks can provoke individuals to respond according to the situation they believe they are in, the National Centre for PTSD states that the majority of individuals with PTSD have never engaged in any violent acts, and the Canadian Mental Health Association reports that “rates of violence among mentally ill individuals without concurrent substance disorders” reflects the rates of violence within the general public. Catherine says when she was “growing up, PTSD is what the Vietnam war vets had and the only time [it was] heard about is when one of them went off and started killing people.”

The stigma persists today, and Catherine notices people are far more wary of her than her husband, Austin, who lives with schizophrenia.

Due to the misconception that only war veterans develop PTSD, Catherine struggled with accepting her illness and felt she was not worthy to be diagnosed with it.

“I … was not … able to understand that it was OK for me to have PTSD. I wasn’t a combat veteran. I’m not a cop.”

While she was never in the armed forces, Catherine did fight for her life 27 years ago, and her husband reassures her and emphasizes the degree of trauma she experienced.

“I want people to understand that she was stabbed 17 times . . . she should’ve died.”

Considering Canada has a high rate of PTSD and a relatively small military compared to other countries, there are others who struggle in their journey to accept their illness. Catherine would like to reassure them that they’re not alone, nor should they feel embarrassed.

“You’re entitled to have [PTSD],” she says, no matter how small the traumatic event may seem.

Austin Mardon is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and member of the Order of Canada. Victoria Throckmorton will be a graduate student in the Communications and New Media program at McMaster University this fall.

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