Some of you will remember the 22 Push-Up Challenge that did the rounds last summer, raising awareness of PTSD. Like a lot of people, I was nominated by a couple of friends.
I remember wondering if there was any point to it – would filming myself doing 22 push-ups really make any difference to PTSD sufferers out there? I anticipated doing a few days, and then probably letting it fizzle out as life got in the way … but after I posted my second video, a friend messaged me to say he had been quietly battling PTSD, and to thank me for making the effort. I decided at that point to do all 22 days, and to try and make my videos at least a little bit entertaining. At the end of the 22 days, I thought I’d made a little contribution to the cause.
I recently found out that another friend of mine has been diagnosed with PTSD. We were both part of a group that hiked up Scafell Pike on a day when the weather made things pretty challenging. My friend runs her own company, managing a team of around 900 people, and has a reputation as a strong, capable woman – someone you can turn to when you need help. But that day, the stress and physical exertion caused her to have a PTSD episode in front of me. She started behaving very strangely … talking nonsense … seeming like she didn’t know who I was … hyper-ventilating … and then shaking uncontrollably. Seeing her like this completely threw me. Initially, I actually found myself getting angry, thinking that she was playing some sort of weird game that I didn’t know the rules to, although I quickly realised that something serious was happening.
With that realisation came the insight that I had no idea what to do. I felt utterly helpless.
It was only later that she explained to me that it had been a PTSD episode, and that she experiences them a couple of times a week. At that point I had to admit to myself that despite doing the Push-Up Challenge last year, I still knew next to nothing about PTSD, or what I might have been able to do to help her – or, indeed, what I might have been doing this last year to help my other friend.
Raising awareness is important, I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. It’s a useful first step that can help break stigmas around controversial subjects (putting a rainbow overlay on your Facebook profile picture for example), or just make people realise that a particular issue is a bigger deal than perhaps they thought, which was the intention with the Push-Up Challenge … But awareness alone isn’t really enough – there needs to be some information, and then perhaps some action in there, too.
Realising that, this week I have spent some time finding out a bit more about PTSD, and what I might be able to do to help my friends. Perhaps next time someone encourages us to do something to ‘raise awareness’ for causes we care about, as well as sharing a post, doing some push-ups, tipping some ice over our heads, or whatever, perhaps we could think about taking some action, too?
PS I also emailed Combat Stress to see whether the Push-Up Challenge had any immediate impact. It did. The campaign raised £315,000, and resulted in over 2000 referrals, which is obviously brilliant. More info here.