PTSD: The ripple effect

This World Mental Health Week we explore PTSD and it's effects not only on the sufferer, but the support system too.

  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychological disorder that develops following exposure to a traumatic event. It can severely affect quality of life and have negative impacts on relationships, friendships, social and vocation function as well as physical health.

  It is estimated that more than 1,000,000 Australians will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder – about 1 in 20 of us. The prevalence among veterans is much higher—up to 20% among veterans [1].

  There is a case to be made for viewing PTSD as a systemic condition that needs to be managed holistically. Long considered a solely psychological condition, the PTSD education program was based on research published earlier this year by the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation in the Medical Journal of Australia. The world-first study found that PTSD was not limited to psychological afflictions, also contributing to long-term poor physical health outcomes for Vietnam veterans, including increased risk of suffering from gastrointestinal problems, including irritable bowel syndrome and its associated symptoms, in addition to reflux and stomach ulcers, decreased lung function, higher risk of fatty liver, and higher risk of suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea.

  GPs are well placed to screen for and manage treatment of PTSD and associated comorbidities in their patients. Dr Phil Parker is one such GP. Ambassador of the PTSD education program, Dr Phil Parker, is committed to enhancing veteran health. With over 27 years’ experience as a military doctor, Dr Parker is now working as a community GP in Brisbane, and understands the important role a GP plays in early intervention for PTSD and other serious illnesses, for the patient and their support system.

 According to Dr Parker, families play an important role in encouraging those experiencing mental health difficulties to regularly visit their GP, and in the development and ongoing management of treatment plans for PTSD or other serious health issues.

 “Carers and families are a source of information and support and should be included in the screening and assessment process and treatment where possible. Clear communication and education about the condition is so important.”

  “But we also know from experience carers generally neglect their own health which leads to carer stress and potentially fractured family relationships so I urge GPs to enquire to the health and wellbeing of family members.” In fact, research has found that children of Vietnam combat veterans experience higher incidence of mental health problems than those of veterans who weren’t deployed [2].

  There is no doubt that PTSD can often be the catalyst for a ripple effect, impacting not only those who suffer with this mental illness, but also touching those closely linked including partners, children and the wider community. We share the story of Kerri-Ann and her blended family….

  Kerri-Ann is married to an Australian Army veteran who has 15 years’ service, and was medically discharged in late 2016 with PTSD. She is his carer, the mother to two children and step mother to two more. The impact, challenges, and growth brought about by six years of PTSD in her family are at once heart-breaking, devastating, life-affirming, and absolutely worthwhile. Life is now different, but that does not mean it is not worth living.

  Kerri-Ann: “I think I picked up quite early after my husband came home that things weren't quite right and weren't getting any better, actually getting worse. As I found with so many clinical issues, you can tell someone there's a problem until you're blue in the face, but until they accept there is an issue and accept that something needs to be done about it, a lot of the times you are fighting a losing battle.

In our case it was nearly two years after he returned home from Afghanistan that he started to seek help, and it's now just over six years that he's been home. He still has loads of appointments every week that he goes to and things are definitely getting better. As much as it's a statement that he doesn't like, this is our new normal.

Things are always changing. Things are always in flux and he finds new ways to deal with things that he didn't deal with before and it's reminding him and also the kids and myself as well that, you know, while it feels like it’s only little steps. If you're looking at it every day, you can't necessarily see the big changes all the time. If we think back a year, two years, four or five years the change in him is enormous.

Hopefully, studies like the PTSD Initiative will help people recognise the signs and symptoms earlier and go a little further along that road to de-stigmatizing it, which I know is massive battle in itself. Get these people and their families the help they need earlier.”

  Acceptance of PTSD by the general population as a “real” condition and a significant social cost to the country is growing. This, and increased media attention, instils confidence among sufferers that medical treatment is available, accessible and encouraged. World Mental Health Week is another chance for us to spread that message, and to remember that PTSD may affect more than just the sufferer. Go that step further to ensure your patients support system are receiving the support they need too.

 To date, 555 health professionals have enrolled in the PTSD education program. Of those, over 95 per cent stated they would be confident managing a patient with PTSD, having completed the education. Click here to enrol into this high impact, 1 hour education module today.


  • 1. Gill G et al. Supporting Australian’s new veterans. Australian Family Physician 2016; 45: 102-06.
  • 2. Hodson F & McFarlane A. Australian veterans – identification of mental health issues. Australian Family Physician 2016: 45: 98-101.