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STRESS INOCULATION


March 31, 2015
By Mark Giles

It was an energizing day of learning for soldiers, police and emergency responders in south-west Ontario – one that highlighted the importance of mental resilience and stress inoculation, while debunking myths surrounding perceptions of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sponsored by the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, the International Association of Firefighters, My Dental in Niagara Falls, and Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers – and hosted by the 31 Canadian Brigade Group Battle School – the dynamic seminar, held at Fanshawe College in London on Mar. 21, was a rare training opportunity for attendees.

Billed as one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence, retired U.S. LCol Dave Grossman – a former U.S. Special Forces officer and West Point psychology professor, and the author of and – delivered a high-energy seminar on the “Bulletproof Mind” to an eager audience.

{Myths and manipulation}

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Protecting us overseas and at home is a stressful business, he said – one that sometimes leaves physical and mental wounds. Mentally, these experiences often result in post-traumatic stress, and – in some cases – PTSD.

With considerable passion, Grossman emphasized, however, that the facts are being distorted regarding the prevalence and impact of PTSD. Referring to U.S. veterans, he highlighted that while research shows that “30-40 percent have some symptoms of PTSD”, some reporters and media agencies have subtly manipulated the findings – removing the word “some” and instead going with “30-40 percent have symptoms of PTSD” or, worse yet, reducing the findings further to simply “30-40 percent have PTSD”, which is a gross distortion of the facts.

It’s a simple headline, and might make a good news story, but it’s not true, he said – emphasizing that having some symptoms does not necessarily mean one actually has PTSD.

Re-experiencing an event is not PTSD, he explained – one needs various symptoms that last at least a month before even considering a diagnosis.

“You’re allowed your own beliefs; you’re not allowed your own facts,” said Grossman.

{Treatment and post-traumatic growth}

Lots of people experience post-traumatic stress – not that many have PTSD, he said. For those that do, there is excellent treatment available and he stressed that we should make sure they get the help they need so they can get better.

Emphasizing strongly that military, police and emergency responders can recover from PTSD, he lamented how “Hollywood”, the media and others – even, perhaps, some mental health professionals – have fostered a sense of pity, suggesting the problem is much larger than it is and a lifetime condition. On the other end of the spectrum, some veterans can be hesitant to get help, feeling it’s a sign of weakness.

“No pity party, no macho man,” said Grossman.

While again encouraging those who need help to ensure they get it, he added that “for most people, post-traumatic stress becomes post-traumatic growth”, which is far more common – and they become stronger for the experience.

“A small percentage need help, but most are just fine,” he said.

{Stress inoculation}

Suggesting that resiliency is the term for those who don’t get PTSD, he spoke extensively to the importance of preparation throughout the seminar.

“Stress inoculation is the single biggest advancement on the battlefield since gunpowder,” said Grossman. “Develop now the will, the resolve to survive.”

Grossman said that stress inoculation helps prevent PTSD and requires taking care of ourselves mentally and physically, so we can develop the resilience needed. This includes getting enough sleep in sleep-friendly conditions – in a completely dark room and without distractions.

“Sleep deprivation puts enormous stress on our minds and bodies,” said Grossman. “There is nothing macho about going without sleep.”

Noting that a lack of sleep is a major cause of ethical failures, he also pointed out that sleep deprivation is also a major factor in suicide – and the number one factor in suicides and PTSD.

“Suicides are up because sleep deprivation is up,” he said.

{Train as you fight}

Focusing on the importance of “training as you fight” – doing in training what one would do in a real situation, to ensure proper actions and reactions in emergency situations. Grossman explained that proper training prepares soldiers, police and emergency workers for the realities they face, increasing the likelihood they’ll react well under stressful conditions.

“We don’t rise to the challenge, we sink to the level of our training,” said Grossman.

Highlighting the importance of preparation and prevention, Grossman emphasized his key message in an interview with CBC Radio after the seminar.

“The foremost thing I want them to take away is to be forewarned and forearmed,” he said.

Grossman highlighted this message throughout the day. Wrapping up the seminar with considerable passion and energy, he commended the audience for its service to society as members of a group that our nations and communities depend on to protect us in violent times.

“Our enemy is evil, our cause is just; our sacrifice for a noble and worthy purpose.”

BIO BOX

Mark Giles is Blue Line’s correspondent for public and media relations. Currently on a military leave, serving with Canadian Joint Operations Command, he is the manager for safety and security with Transport Canada’s Communications and Marketing Group in Ottawa.