Former soldier hopes to 'slay the stigma' of post traumatic stress disorder

NICHOLAS MCBRIDE
Last updated 23:13 23/06/2016
Warwick Smith/Stuff

"You're not damaged, you're not broken," says former soldier Dion Jensen to fellow sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder.

Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ
Former soldier Dion Jensen has written a book aimed at helping those with post traumatic stress disorder.

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A former soldier has a message for fellow sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder – you're not damaged and you're not broken.

Dion Jensen is hoping to "slay the stigma" around PTSD by sharing in a book his own experiences and approach to dealing with it.

The Palmerston North man has recently completed Your Subconscious Bodyguards: The good news about PTSD, which he believes is the first "positive" book on the subject.

Jensen spent five years at Linton Military Camp, worked as a police officer in Levin and Palmerston North for seven years and worked in Iraq for three years.

Though he was not officially diagnosed with PTSD, it manifested after his time in Iraq when he noticed symptoms of aggression, paranoia, reliving traumatic events and depression.

"When you go to Iraq, everyone is trying to kill you," Jensen said.

"Going through that and constantly being conditioned to be at threat level, coming home you can't switch that off."

Upon returning to civilian life, Jensen suffered hyperarousal.

"Any time there is a perceived attack on you, you respond with speed and aggression because that is how you were trained.

"And that was how I was reacting at work and relationships."

He also experienced hypervigilance – a heightened awareness he could not shut off; remembering the trauma with flashbacks and nightmares; and feeling depressed.

"For me personally it was the devaluing; you've been at the top of the world and now you just mean nothing."

"The devaluing was the hardest because that is pride."

So Jensen decided to apply his military approach and retrain himself.

To better understand the symptoms he created characters, such as a werewolf to explain hyperarousal, and a paranoid assassin for hypervigilance.

He said the best way to deal with PTSD was to normalise it.

"When people try to kill you throughout your career, you're probably going to be a bit jittery – but it's OK, you're not alone."

He hoped to let others, not just soldiers, know they could beat PTSD and that it was OK to ask for help by explaining it in simple terms and creating techniques for people to understand what is happening to them.

"There's nothing wrong with you. It's not a disorder, you're not damaged, you're not broken, this is to be expected from what you've gone through."

Dr Sarb Johal, associate professor for the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University, said PTSD could be extremely debilitating.

"It can affect their quality of life, it can affect people's ability to do things in their life."

Johal urged people experiencing symptoms of PTSD to get help from someone with experience and who they trusted.

"It is important to realise that PTSD is not one of those things that gets better by itself."

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It could cause people the inability to work because they were experiencing trauma, while hyperarrousal and hypervigilance could cause fatigue or dramatic emotional shifts.

Johal said those who felt they were suffering from those symptoms needed to go seek advice by going to a qualified medical practitioner.

Jensen's self-published book is available through yoursubconsciousbodyguards.com.

- Stuff

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