You will have seen the Ice Bucket Challenge and, consequently, heard about the ground-breaking research into ALS funded by jolly internet folk tossing buckets of freezing cold water over one other. Well now there is a new home-video phenomena taking over social media, raising money and awareness for a cause very close to my heart
The #22PushUpChallenge originated in the United States and, since the start of 2016, has gathered momentum. The campaign urges participants to undertake 22 push-ups and donate a small amount to raise awareness of the 22 American veterans that complete suicide each day after struggling with poor mental health and the crippling effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All the money raised goes to charities committed to improving veterans’ mental health.
PTSD is a cluster of symptoms which typically manifest within 3 months, but sometimes lay dormant for months or even years following an initial traumatic event. It is characterised by reliving trauma (by flashbacks and nightmares), heightened vigilance or awareness and avoiding certain feelings or memories that link to the original traumatic event.
”PTSD is not just a problem in America and it does not just affect military personnel”
PTSD is not just a problem in America and it does not just affect military personnel. I am writing this whilst knee-deep in a dissertation evaluating the use of cognitive therapies in the treatment of adolecents who have experienced childhood trauma.
Traumatic events are many and varied. In the UK, much of our research focuses on those who have experienced child sexual abuse; recognised as a substantial social problem which affects large numbers of children of both sexes, of all ages, and across culture and social class. I write this whilst recent reports into workplace sexism and sexual malpractice are ringing in my ears, and with personal experience of working with survivors of sexual assault.
Elsewhere, there are children and adults in our services who have experienced other forms of abuse, bereavement, life in care, serious injury, accidents, or difficulties during pregnancy and birth that have later manifested as post-traumatic stress symptoms.
”PTSD is not a sign of weakness or failure; it must not be considered a punishment, and it is never something that a person’s actions have warrented or deserved”
Finally, increasingly people of all ages from across the world are being displaced by erratic climatic events and political turmoil. As part of our compulsory modules in university we have learned about the huge financial and emotional cost of asylum - the process itself often being as traumatic as the deplorable situations that refugees sought to escape in the first place.
Post-Traumatic Stress, like all mental illness, does not follow a pattern. Sometimes reactions are not intuitive and, when you speak to survivors, you realise that the events you may have expected to be most traumatic have not been the most damaging. For instance, what I found most humbling during my dissertation research were the testimonies of young Congolese women who were experiencing PTSD symptoms after being forced into labour in a brothel. These women had been subject to horrific sexual abuse, yet when asked what they had found most distressing it was the separation from their families and knowledge that their mothers were not there to hold them.
Importantly, there is no hard-and-fast rule that an experience of trauma will equate to a subsequent PTSD reaction, yet this is the reality for many people of all ages, cultures and from all walks of life.
”Whilst the #22PushUpChallenge focuses on veterans, I hope that the movement begins a conversation for anyone who is at risk of this condition”
Whilst the #22PushUpChallenge focuses on veterans, I hope that the movement begins a conversation for anyone who is at risk of this condition. PTSD is not a sign of weakness or failure; it must not be considered a punishment, and it is never something that a person’s actions have warrented or deserved. Most important, sufferers need to know that they are not alone.
Whilst there is no single miracle cure for the condition, various forms of psychological and pharmacological support are available. Similarly, the work of military organisations such as Combat Stress, DNRC and PTSD Resolution plus other agencies such as Victim Support, ASSIST, AnxietyUK and MIND are invaluable to ensuring that those experiencing the debilitating effects of the conditon - as well as their families and loved ones - are supported.
If you would like to take part by posting your video to social media and encouraging your friends and ‘followers’ to join in, use the hashtag #22PushUpChallenge and donate by texting ‘PTSD22 £2’ or ‘£5’ or ‘£10’ to 70070.
Hazel Nash is Student Nursing Times’ student editor, mental health branch