Jo Jukes' Blog

Family Support and Early Intervention is Crucial

The advantage I have in making our story so public is that I have the honour of many other families reaching out to me to either share their story or ask for advice on how to either access support or treatment.#PTSD#CPTSD

The foundations of any mental health support in the community is the family and those who are closest to the person, more so with someone with PTSD. By the very nature of PTSD there is a distrust of ‘outsiders’, people who haven’t lived or experienced either military life or PTSD. You cannot blame a military veteran for this, this is their training: it kept them alive when they were in combat. However, it has always baffled me as to why ‘professionals’ don’t understand this. You will hear of their resistance to treatment or acknowledging that they have a problem, but you don’t hear of the reasons why. They don’t like to be naturally suspicious or hyper vigilant, however they are the person that our Government created in order to do their job. If they were the opposite, how would that work in Theatre? This is why the blue light services also have a problem with PTSD, they also have to be hyper-vigilant at all times because if they weren’t, their lives could be in danger. The mind cannot work at this level for prolonged periods of time, it’s draining both physically and emotionally, for everyone concerned.#Mentalhealthawareness

The focus is, as it should be, on the person with PTSD, but standing beside them are a family unit who sacrifice their own mental health and lives in order you support that person to stay alive and to not do damage to other people. Unless you have lived with someone with severe PTSD, you could not possibly know what toll that takes on you personally. You walk on egg shells constantly, because you don’t want to trigger them, because we all know smells, sights and even certain words can trigger a person with PTSD. However, a lot of the time the triggers can change, so asking someone to identify the triggers and avoid them is very difficult. Sometimes the triggers can catch both them and those around them out of the blue, how would you know something could trigger you unless you’ve been in that situation before? This can then lead to isolation, because if you have had that experience by going out maybe in a crowd or somewhere new a couple of times, you are going to avoid that situation altogether because you don’t know what the outcome could be- it could be ok, it could not.#familysupport

Therefore, you end up isolating not only yourself but your family. With someone with severe PTSD, there really aren’t very many family times. I know that going anywhere with Dave was sometimes more hassle than it was worth. I used to call him a ‘social grenade’ because I never knew what he was going to say, how he would react or if someone would trigger him. Because PTSD is an anxiety based condition, large crowds, noises and new situations can become very stressful. Who do you think takes the fallout of this? Who makes sure that the effects are this are limited for both the person and society?#Militarymentalhealth#NHS

Very often, the ones closest to the person with PTSD become their advocate as well. They want to do everything in their power to help not only them but themselves. Quite simply, they have to negotiate the systems that are in place, or not on behalf of their loved one while also being the one who cares for them on a daily basis. The current system is very complicated, and it becomes more complicated because almost too many different agencies become involved- this is because through desperation, you reach out to anyone who offers a life line. Yes it’s great that there are different options, but not all of them are good options and not all of them work and they certainly do not communicate with each other. Therefore, it becomes this tangled web of appointments and assessments. If you are also working, how do you juggle this and negotiating being the advocate for your loved one? If it’s not you with PTSD, work places aren’t very sympathetic to you taking time off or having phone calls, but unfortunately all medical appointments are made within working hours. As an advocate you then become burnt out, there is too much for you to do, as well as having the responsibility ( sometimes) of knowing that if you give up, they will take their own lives. Can you imagine what that actually feels like on a year in and year out basis?

I know we were not unusual in finding that family and friends abandoned us, over time. They couldn’t understand that Dave was not deliberately rude or abusive, he didn’t enjoy being treated like a leper and when your family cannot stand being around them anymore, you are left with the same conundrum: leave and they take their life, or stay and they live. I stayed, as many do, and in the process I lost my entire family. Dave’s family also lost touch with him, so we literally only had each other with no other support. The family unit is the only solid foundation block they have, if that starts to crumble then, along with trying to negotiate the complex system of treatment, they cannot mentally handle it. Their brain tells them lies, it tells them you will be better off without them that they will be saving you, so you have to keep all of your stress inside you and never show that you are also crumbling.#Isolation

There is literally no support for these families. The centre is on, as it should be, the person with PTSD. Dave used to get very angry about this, when professionals reported that he scared them or that he didn’t fit into normal society, he used to say ‘well, you’ve seen me for 5 minutes, how do you think my wife and daughters feel?’

Put simply, a holistic approach to Veterans mental health needs to be employed. A caseworker needs to be assigned to the family to lessen the stress on the partner/family and families need to be listened to. You cannot separate the two because the very fact that the person with PTSD knows their condition is putting a strain on the ones they love the most is also the reason they give up. In the end something has to break and it will either be the veteran or their family that does this.#Makeachange

Words from a blog post by Jo Jukes in Nov, 2019