AS the chief executive of Mediforce Life and Rescue Group, and Audit Fire and Emergency Australia, Lesmurdie’s Mark Leach has seen the after-effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) far too closely.
A former British Army non-commissioned officer for eight years, Mr Leach served in Northern Ireland, Central Africa, Uganda and Rwanda.
“I saw some terrible things,” he said.
After coming back from overseas service Mr Leach joined the firefighter service for nine years, working on Yorkshire’s east coast.
“I never talked about what I saw and that’s why I suffered from PTSD,” he said.
Mr Leach returned to New Zealand, the country of his birth, after his mother passed away.
There he secured a position with the New Zealand police and taught self defence and training, where the first hints of PTSD surfaced.
“Initially I wasn’t aware of it but I was getting glimpses of a picture and I didn’t know what it was and then it appeared as longer and I pieced things together and got depressed and couldn’t do much and became irritable,” he said.
“Then the pictures and the flashbacks got really intense in the day as well.”
Eventually it all fell apart when he attended the scene of a motorcycle accident, which triggered an emotional response inside him and he “became a wreck”.
“I couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t go out and it got worse and worse,” he said.
“I was on my own and tried to get better and there were no services to help in New Zealand. I used medication, sport and Buddhism and meditation, and counselling and after a time I was able to protect myself and control it a little more.
“Then I learned some protective mechanisms and that helped me to deal with it and also to teach others to deal with it.
“It takes a lot of discipline,” he said.
“It took me three years to get over and with that protection and guidance I can help other people and make them aware so they can help others and know the signs.”
Mediforce is a company registered to raise money for Soldier On. Mr Leach has also created a charity for emergency service personnel, to help them fight PTSD.
“The figures are tragic,” he said.
“One paramedic commits suicide every week, one firefighter commits suicide every two to four weeks in Australia.”
Mr Leach said there were a number of emergency service personnel on stress leave suffering from PTSD.
He stressed it was important to catch the disorder in the early stages as Critical Incident Stress Disorder (CISD).
“CISD sufferers become emotionally attached to an incident and find it difficult to talk about because of that emotion,” he said.
“There is a guilt that they could have done more and they didn’t do enough and they internalise it and become distant, morbid and inwards.
“These are signs of avoidance, where the sufferer doesn’t want to get involved with anything that could bring back a memory but they can talk about it constantly and they won’t look at you when they talk about it.
“It’s different and they want to relive the experience and become emotional, he said.
The figures among emergency personnel were staggering he said.
“At least 50-60 per cent of people are suffering from this in the forces,” Mr Leach said.
He has organised a ‘want to be a fire fighter for a day’ training course to fundraise for Soldier On, and has set up a new appeal for police officers and paramedics called Blue Light appeal which is being held on November 28.
“If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to fight a live fire, wear breathing apparatus and rescue a casualty out of a burning building, then sign up,” Mr Leach said.
The day costs $350 and runs from 8am-5pm at the state-of-the-art emergency training facility at 7 Compass Road, Jandakot.
Following the day will be a presentation dinner at the Parmelia Hilton, Perth.
Tables cost $1250 or $150 per person and all proceeds will go to Soldier On to continue assisting those suffering from PTSD and CISD.
For more information contact Mark Leach on email@example.com or .
You can also visit www.mediforce group.com.au.