Mary’s Story: PTSD, alcohol and COVID-19

15/10/2020


Mary and her son embrace

Covid-19 has changed the way we all live and is adding enormous strain to many people's lives. New studies show that in many communities across Australia, some people are increasing their use of alcohol to cope with the negative effects of the pandemic.

For people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), uncertainty and worry about the future as well as the isolation of lockdown, can trigger bad memories and negative feelings from the past.


For up to date information, advice and facts on COVID-19 visit nsw.gov.au/covid-19 and follow NSW Health on Facebook and Twitter.

PTSD is a treatable mental health condition that can develop after someone has experienced a traumatic event or events, such as being in war or conflict, disaster (bushfires, floods, earthquakes), death, serious injury, sexual violence or threat of violence to themselves or others. When someone continues to experience the effects of a traumatic event(s) more than a month after it has happened, they may be diagnosed with PTSD. The first step is to contact a GP who may refer patients to a clinical psychologist. More on PTSD symptoms and where to get help below.

Alcohol and PTSD

In 2012, a study by the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) found that "an estimated 350,000 Australians have comorbid PTSD and substance use." Comorbidity is were a person has more than one condition or disease at the same time. In the study 'Integrated Exposure-Based Therapy for Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Dependence', NDRAC reported that close to 90 per cent of people receiving alcohol or other drug treatment have experienced multiple traumas, with around half experiencing PTSD symptoms at the time of treatment.

Mary and her son

Mary's Story is a short radio play produced by the African Companions Local Drug Action Team, with the help of DAMEC. The play provides refugees and migrant families resettling in Australia ideas about healthy ways to manage alcohol use and stress. The story explores parent-child conflict and different cultural understandings of mental health. Storytelling is an important way that that many communities can talk about sensitive topics like drug and alcohol use and mental health issues.

Single mother Mary immigrated from a war-torn country in Africa and now lives in community NSW with her daughters and son. She discovers that her son is using alcohol to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary finds it difficult to understand why her son is drinking alcohol and struggling with mental health issues, because she says she has worked hard to provide him with a better life than they had in their home country through the war. Mary talks about her concerns with her eldest daughter and a trusted elder, she begins to understand that her children's lives in Australia carry different challenges and many people have trouble dealing with the stress of COVID-19. She talks to her son and they find a way to connect and respectfully express their feelings. They talk about the services they can use to get support for alcohol and other drug problems, such as Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre (DAMEC) and Family Drug Support (FDS).

The radio play was written by NSW entrepreneur, Yarrie Bangura and actor Daniel Akinshola.

The African Companions is an alcohol and other drugs education and awareness program for African communities in Australia. The program has been running for over 15 years and is made up of volunteers supported by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), DAMEC, the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), FDS and NSW Police Multicultural Community Liaison Officers.

Mary's Story is available in Dinka, Swahili, Arabic, French and English.


PTSD symptoms

According to medical research institute the Black Dog Institute, people with PTSD can experience the following symptoms after a traumatic event or events:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma, for example intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, flashbacks, severe reactions to things that remind you of the event and racing heart or difficulty breathing when reliving the event
  • Avoiding reminders such as activities, people, places, conversations or even objects that remind you of the event
  • Negative changes in thoughts and mood such as feeling detached or 'cut off' from people, despair, emotional numbing, sense of isolation and loneliness, strong guilt, horror and unable to enjoy things
  • Hyper alert for danger or 'on edge' such as feeling very irritable or angry, easily startled or 'jumpy', finding it hard to concentrate or sleep, overprotective with children and relatives, reckless behaviour and violent or angry outbursts 

For further information about PTSD and support you can call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au/ptsd.

If you, a family member or friend is turning to unhealthy behaviour like drinking alcohol and taking drugs to cope, there are services available to help.

Free and confidential 24 hour, 7 days a week support is available from the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015 or Family Drug Support (FDS) on 1300 368 186.

For further help on accessing alcohol and other drug support within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in NSW, contact the Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre (DAMEC) in Liverpool or Blacktown on 02 8706 0150.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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