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Fledgling PTSD support group finds a home

By Chris Lewis   |   Vol. 31 No. 51 (March 6 2019)

PTSD awareness is on the rise in the Conception Bay South region.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that affects hundreds of thousands worldwide, and is not an uncommon disorder, often affecting veterans returning from war, or paramedics, firefighters and police officers who witness traumatic events on the job.

However, PTSD is not specific to those working in such professions and can in fact affect anyone who experiences a traumatic event.

This is just some of the information that non-profit organization PTSD Buddies aims to spread. Started in 2015 by Cpl. Jamie MacWhirter, PTSD Buddies aims to bring together those struggling with the illness in Newfoundland and Labrador by creating a space for them to share their stories, experiences, and hopefully find solace in the knowledge that they’re not alone.

The organization boasts approximately 4,000 members worldwide and continues to grow by the day.

Terry Hibbs is one of those people, dealing with his own battle against PTSD. Hibbs has been working closely with PTSD Buddies over the years and sits on their board of directors. He is spearheading the organization’s move to the Conception Bay South and hopes to increase the numbers as time goes on.

“(Jamie MacWhirter) came back from Afghanistan and saw that there was no support out there for sufferers of PTSD, and he decided that he would set up a peer support group, and it’s been growing ever since then,” Hibbs said, noting some 70 per cent of those diagnosed with PTSD are civilians rather than first responders. “Our group is for every survivor of PTSD. It doesn’t matter what your trauma was or is – the symptoms are all the same.”

Hibbs explained that in his two years of dealing with PTSD Buddies, he’s seen a number of comments and messages coming from people expressing their disappointment in not being able to make it to St. John’s to attend the group’s meetings.

“I said, well, maybe it’s time for us to branch out,” he said.

Now, the goal is to host support meetings for sufferers of PTSD in just about every Royal Canadian Legion building across the province, including Branch 50 in Conception Bay South.

Having started in early February, Hibbs admitted the local meetings have been off to a bit of a slow start. However, he is not about to lose hope in what he feels is a very beneficial service to any community in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hibbs said the low turnout is likely not a sign of a lack of PTSD presence in the region, but instead a result of one of the many negative impacts PTSD can have on those living with it.

“A lot of people who suffer from PTSD don’t like being in the public or being in a crowd. Some people might make it to the parking lot, and that’s as far as they can go. They just can’t do crowds. If they have to go through a public space to get to a meeting, a lot of them just simply cannot do it,” he said.

But, Hibbs said, the Legion in CBS is a great location for such meetings thanks to the layout of the building. He says a private entrance to the building’s meeting room provides an ideal location to host the peer support meetings, as it provides possible attendees with a discreet entrance to the room, away from the general public.

By speaking up about the group’s presence in Conception Bay South, Hibbs hopes to dissipate some of the stigma surrounding PTSD – and mental health as a whole.

“People don’t see (PTSD) as a problem, or an issue, because it’s an unseen ilness. Because it’s not visible, people don’t take it seriously,” Hibbs said. “Many people with mental illnesses are what they call high-functioning. They have jobs, they have families, the whole gambit. But, just because they have these things, doesn’t mean they’re not suffering from something. It’s not visible, but it’s there. That’s something we want to help change.”

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