What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

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Little Known Facts

It’s always fun to share tidbits of knowledge because we all like to know more. So let’s share some now. Some little known facts about you include:

  • Your tongue rests on the roof of your mouth
  • You blink around 20 times a minute
  • The entire surface of your skin is replaced about every month
  • You produce enough saliva to fill two bathtubs a year
  • During trauma, the brain shuts down all non-essential systems, triggering survival or ‘fight or flight’ mode.

What You Don’t Know

They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you. That can be entirely untrue as it may leave a person ill prepared. In the first responder world, we know this old saying isn’t the case on the job. In the rest of the world, it’s about the same. Knowledge isn’t just power, it’s preparedness, safety, resources, awareness, and so much more. The more we know about a topic, condition, or situation, the better we can handle it (or avoid it altogether!) There’s so much we still don’t know about the human brain, so doctors and scientists are still studying and researching to learn all they can.

What We Know Now

When the trauma or stress is over, the parasympathetic nervous system comes back online in the brain, allowing us to rest. We now know that ‘survival mode’ doesn’t switch off for some people, causing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). They’re stuck in fight or flight mode. There’s no rest and, therefore, little ability for the brain to process all that happened. In essence, they’re still surviving day to day, allowing no mental rest. This leads to so much, but let’s talk about the brain more first.

Brain Parts

Amygdala is basically our own little ‘fire alarm.’ When you have PTSD, this little guy doesn’t shut off, leaving you feeling at high alert at times you don’t need to be. It can be hard to know the difference between a threat now and a threat from your past. PTSD sufferers know a constant feeling of stress and anxiety because of this overworked 1-inch portion of their brains.

The Hippocampus is your learning center that sits in the back of your brain. The hippocampus is shown to be smaller and less active for those with PTSD. This contributes to learning issues and memory loss and adds to an already stressful life.

Your Prefrontal Cortex, living at the front of your brain, handles reason and rationalization. This is also shown to be less active in PTSD sufferers according to research. This slows the learning process and makes it difficult to control fear responses and logical thinking.

When your nervous system is overridden with PTSD symptoms, your tolerance level drops drastically. This leaves you vulnerable to a short fuse or bad temper, which can be detrimental to relationships. Statistically, those with PTSD have a harder time with relationships, not just in marriage but also jobs, family, and friends.

Effects of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can show up much later from the event, usually around 3 months later but sometimes even years later. The stress can come into any part of your life, even the things you once loved to do or the people you once loved and trusted. Marriages have ended, jobs have been lost, people have even been kicked out of their homes due to the effects of PTSD. Not only can it affect your mental health, but it affects heart and digestive health as well. For some, it gets even worse as the circle spirals downwards. Loss of marriage, loss of job, leading to more stress on the heart, poor diet, worsening digestive system, therefore worsening heart health… The effects go on and on. Sadly, this increases the risk of suicide greatly.

Suicide Rates

According to Dr. Alexandra Pitman, a large research study in Sweden found that “3.5% of suicides in women may be due to PTSD, and 0.6% of suicides in men, suggesting that as many as 1.6% of all suicides could be prevented in no one experienced PTSD. As many as 54% of suicides among people with PTSD are due to the disorder.”

Just among American military, an estimated “30,177 active duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed in post-9/11 war operations.” Also, according to the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders, “first responders… are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017, there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. Suicide is a result of mental illness, including depression and PTSD, which stems from constant exposure to death and destruction.”

Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs and symptoms to watch: rage, anxiety, irritability, loss of desire for things once loved, flashbacks, nightmares, memory issues, inability to make decisions, difficulty concentrating or learning, or lack of motivation. Anytime a loved one is not acting ‘themselves’ anymore, it’s good to talk and find out if they’re okay. Many brush it off, feeling that admitting a problem is admitting a weakness. Be patient with that person, but be vigilant and ask for help if needed.

Knowing More

When we know more, we can do more and be more prepared. Years ago, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We didn’t know what to look for. It wasn’t studied and brain function studies and mental health knowledge weren’t anywhere near where they are now. Studies continue around the globe but it’s a race against time for some. Suicides also continue. There have already been over 36 completed suicides by officers in America this year alone. It’s only early April. That does not include any other first responders. Someone in the world dies by suicide every 40 seconds. We need to know more. We need to find an end.