Australians with PTSD to SkyRocket at Alarming Rate Triggered by Covid and the Bushfires

TV presenter and PTSD Dogs Australia Ambassador Tamara Wrigley is calling for funding and a new property for the non-profit, which trains displaced and unwanted dogs to support and assist veterans (both working and medically-discharged) and First Responders – fire, police, and ambulance.

PTSD affects as many as one in four people who experience traumatic events, and these figures are set to increase over the coming months due to triggers brought on Covid-19, especially for first line responders who haven’t been able to catch a break due to the fires and being isolated from their support network due to coronavirus restrictions.

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, almost 50 percent of the front-line healthcare workers and people who were self-quarantined showed symptoms of PTSD, according to a study.

It is estimated that approximately 8.3% of Australian Defence Force (ADF) members have experienced PTSD in the last 12 months, which is significantly higher than in the Australian community (5.2%). In particular, ADF males report a greater rate of PTSD compared with the general community (8.1% versus 4.6%).

Those figures could nearly triple with PTSD Dogs Australia already experiencing an increased volume of calls from people with early signs of PTSD needing assistance over the past few months.

Research shows assistance dogs are an extremely effective intervention for veterans with PTSD, with all studies showing they confer a range of benefits on functioning and mental health.

 To date, more than 20 dogs have been through the program (case studies available) since the charity launched in 2018, but with mental health issues so prevalent among veterans and first responders – including those caught up in the recent fires and COVID-19, there is an urgent need for more dogs and more foster parents, especially as waitlists for similar charities can be several years-long.

“PTSD Dogs Australia has been inundated with requests recently from all over Australia, including those affected by the fires and COVID-19,” says Tamara.

“It takes at least 18 months and costs around $40,000 to train an assistance dog, and we need a larger property now so we can get these dogs in and start training them so they will be ready for the avalanche of screams for help, because they’re coming.

“We rescue dogs from shelters all over the country, and they’re assessed on their empathy and trainability. We call our training immersion therapy because unlike a psychologist or psychiatrist, who takes them back through the process of whatever caused their PTSD, we minimise the stress of their learning process.

“It has to be slow and gradual, and once they become familiar with the dog, we take them out into public spaces at quiet times and build their confidence slowly and get them feeling confident and in control again.

“People suffering PTSD tend to remove themselves from society and lock themselves in their house, and our dogs are trained to help mitigate that and get them back out and into the community again.

“These dogs give people their lives back, and we rescue the dogs which in turn rescue their humans.”