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PTSD support group fills void
27 September 2017
“We need to protect the people who serve our country. We ask the men and women on our frontline to run towards danger when all the rest of us are running away. The fact that they have higher rates of mental illness, relationship breakdown, PTSD and suicide than the general population as a result of their work is, to me, unacceptable.” Sarah Yates (above), CEO Alongside.
Sarah Yates is a mother of two and a psychologist by trade. Her husband, a Western Australian Police Detective, was diagnosed with workplace related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2008. For eight years she tried to cope with her partner’s PTSD – an illness with long-term mental health effects and an often difficult path to wellness – and with the turbulence of her own feelings and reactions to the situation.
Paige Hobbs’s ex-partner was in the Navy. Her experience of the lifestyle and her partner’s experiences left her feeling useless, confused and lost.
In 2015, following a spate of suicides of frontline personnel in Western Australia, Paige was listening to radio talk-back dealing with the issue. She heard Sarah tell her story of emotional struggle as the partner of someone with PTSD. Sarah’s story touched a raw nerve in Paige and she reached out to Sarah via Facebook.
The two women met and over a glass of wine – Paige tells me it may have been more than a glass - tried to unpack how they had got to where they were and what could be done to support the partners, family, friends of those who work in the frontline.
From that first meeting came Alongside – an organisation that now operates across three states running proactive education, transition and deployment support and a strong community for partners and families of Australia's frontline personnel across Defence and Emergency Services.
Working from recruit level and then at targeted points of transition across career, Alongside up-skills partners and families through targeted education programs to increase their ability as strongest proactive factors against mental illness in frontline personnel.
Sarah has written about her experiences and about the difference Alongside has made to her and others:
“My work setting up and developing Alongside has an intensely personal nature to it. My husband, a veteran police officer of 17 years’ experience, has PTSD from workplace exposure to trauma over a long period of time.
My initial journey highlighted the lack of education and support services available. I do what I do to ensure that families do not have to experience living with an illness like PTSD which can rob you of the person you love, while having them right there in front of you.
In 2016 I received a Westpac Social Change Fellowship. It gave me the opportunity to spend significant time on the ground with families, and the Defence and Emergency Services, to refine Alongside’s program.
I used the bulk of the first part of my Fellowship to travel within Australia to expand my academic and personal knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the frontline, but also to better understand the needs of frontline partners and families.
The Fellowship provided me the opportunity to reach outside myself and engage with other families in my situation. I got to talk with so many partners who were living with the same things I was. Hearing their experiences in crisis, particularly where relationships had failed or people had committed suicide was absolutely pivotal in my social change project moving from a crisis intervention service to a proactive model of education and support.
By gaining insight into what other families were going through, I was able to extrapolate the common themes from frontline families and understand the broader patterns that were occurring. That moment is really where Alongside took off.
We were approached by the Northern Territory Police to do research and development work with their families, and that resulted in our first contract as an organisation.
I cannot state strongly enough how instrumental Phase One of the Fellowship was in making that happen. It deepened my understanding of crisis, but more importantly, of the importance of working proactively to prevent mental health issues from forming and in celebrating the unique and important role partners and families have to play on the frontline.”
World Mental Health Day 10 October.