WINDSOR – A former paramedic is speaking out about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in an effort to help others who may be suffering in silence.
Sean Conohan, who began working as a paramedic in 1997 and spent time working in the communication centre, had to change careers after PTSD symptoms emerged.
“In September of 2013, I was at the communications centre and I took a call and it involved a suicide of a young person. After that call, I hung up the phone and immediately started to cry, which has never happened to me before,” recalled Conohan. “I've always been able to keep things very steady – no emotion at work – and I broke.”
Conohan uses an anecdote to describe PTSD.
He says the brain has a storage closet and each person's closet is a different size. When traumatic events occur, the brain stuffs those hard to handle memories or events into the closet. But, much like in the cartoons, the brain can only stuff so much in before it all spills out.
“I tried to work through it... but noticed that I was unable to put anything else in my storage closet. I couldn't put anything away,” he said. “I was remembering calls from 10 years ago – bad incidents – that I never thought about before... and they're stealing my sleep. I was bringing them home with me.”
By March 2014, Conohan realized he could no longer do this as a full time career. He's sought professional help, and now wants to help others.
Launching a podcast
Conohan has launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise enough funds to buy professional equipment needed to host a bimonthly podcast. The goal is $3,000.
He plans to have guest speakers on the online show, including government officials, medical professionals, first responders, and others.
Dr. Robin McGee, a clinical psychologist that specializes in PTSD treatment, will host a segment called Clinically Speaking with Dr. McGee.
She's fully supportive of Conohan's endeavour to bring additional awareness to the condition.
“I think the more people talk about PTSD, the more people who need help for it will get that help,” said McGee.
But more than that, McGee said she hopes people will realize how treatable PTSD is.
“There's sort of a myth out there that it's a chronic enduring thing that people can never get over. That's just not true,” said McGee. “We have really good therapies now so people can get completely well from even terrible, terrible experiences.”
The two main accepted therapies for treating PTSD are cognitive behaviour therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing, she said.
“I'm hoping to participate in any kind of open dialogue about the condition. I'm hoping to... reduce stigma. I'm hoping that people who are curious or have things to say about it will have a chance to talk openly,” said McGee.
“My experience with podcasts is that they can be very, very, very helpful and inspirational to people who are struggling with their conditions.”
Talking about it
Conohan, who volunteers with the Brooklyn Fire Department's new substation in Tonge Hill, first joined the fire service in New Minas in 1993.
With PTSD being common among first responders, military personnel, police and those exposed to highly stressful work environments, he hopes the show will get people thinking – and talking – about the condition.
“First responders in general, I find, are Type A personalities that don't like to talk about themselves, especially when it has to do with a perceived weakness or asking for help,” said Conohan.
“We're not very good at it. Things tend to get way out of hand before we try to help ourselves or other people step in to try and help us.”
Since the beginning of the year, in Canada, more than 30 first responders have committed suicide, as have more than eight military personnel.
“Because first responders put themselves in harm's way over and over again, many times during a shift, that's why I feel that the prevalence of PTSD in first responders is so high compared to other sectors of society,” said Conohan.
He said he hopes to break down the barriers out there when it comes to talking about mental health.
“For some reason, the perceived weakness associated with mental health makes people uneasy,” said Conohan. “We don't like to admit weakness, we don't like to admit that we're hurt in any way, or that anything affects us. We want to be seen as strong and pillars of public assistance and we don't want any cracks in that armour.”
Conohan's podcast will be called UpTalk and he hopes it will serve as a positive broadcast for those interested in the topic.
How you can help
The Kickstarter campaign runs until Dec. 17. He's looking to raise $3,000 – and as of press time, has already raised $970.
Donations start at $5.
The money raised will go towards purchasing the necessary hardware and software to host a bimonthly podcast.
If the goal is reached, the first podcast will likely go live online in January.
The podcasts will be available for download, free of charge, via iTunes and on YouTube.
Visit the Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.
Aside from Dr. Robin McGee being on the show, several people have agreed to be guests, including Nova Scotia's Minister of Health Leo Glavine, Vince Savoie, the executive director of TEMA Conter Memorial Trust, and Tyler Skluzacek, who helped create an app to help veterans with PTSD that experience night terrors.