The burden of disease of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is among the worst in Australia. Building a Strong Foundation: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing in the ACT 2009-2014 says that the economic cost to the Canberra community, both in terms of treatment costs and loss of productivity is at least $320 million a year.
The Chief Health Officer’s Report 2008 says that mental and behavioural problems in the ACT are 35.5% higher than the national average, and the leading cause of the total burden of disease and injury is ‘anxiety and depression’ involving 57,000 people in the ACT at the time of the 2006 Census.
The Compendium of OHS and Workers Compensation Statistics 2005-2009 from Comcare shows that the average total cost of individual mental stress claims exceeds $140,000 – compared with $30,000 for all claims excluding mental stress. Mental stress includes work pressure, work related harassment, exposure to occupational violence and traumatic events, and ‘other’ stress factors.
Addressing PTSD literacy is an ACT and Federal Government health priority.
The Medical Journal of Australia says that ‘The groups who pose the greatest challenge for prevention [of acute stress disorder and PTSD] are emergency service workers and service personnel, who seldom become unwell on their first traumatic exposure, but have repeated exposures.’
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Health Survey Results-2004-05, show that 15.5% of mental and behavioural problems here were caused by work, and that the level of psychological stress in the ACT was 87%.
It also noted that the ACT population is more likely than other Australians to take time off work or do nothing rather than seek professional help, thereby increasing the burden of disease on their employers, the community and themselves.
Anxiety Australia says it is common for PTSD sufferers to have other psychological disorders as well. The most common mental conditions accompanying PTSD include: drug & alcohol issues, depression, social anxiety, panic and/or agoraphobia, generalised anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar mood disorder. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 14.4% of Australians live with these illnesses every year – that is 3 million people.
Personal experience of the realities of diagnosis and living with post traumatic stress disorder led to the establishment of the community group Picking Up The Peaces (PUTP) in 2007. Its mission is to increase PTSD literacy and early intervention, and reduce stigma towards those living with the illness.
Subsequent contact with Australian Defence Force, military veterans, police and emergency services highlighted the extent of the problem in the ACT and the concern of management that systems for handling PTSD were inadequate. PUTP staged the first National PTSD Awareness Day in 2008, started a PTSD Support Group in 2010 and conducted a pilot PTSD Education Program in 2011.
Stigma surrounding the disorder is a key factor impacting the lives of those affected and in their seeking early diagnosis and treatment. Clinical Director of Acute Services at ACT Health, Dr Len Lambeth, says that contrary to public perception, “PTSD is an illness, not a weakness.” That mis-perception is one of the biggest causes of stigma.
Is this an isolated ‘weakness’? Far from it. The World Health Organisation expects depression (which occurs in 80% of people with PTSD) to be the leading contributor to the disease burden internationally amongst all illnesses by 2020. And significantly, Australia’s 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that here, 56% more people aged 16-85 years live with PTSD than with depression.