Why those who keep you safe deserve your consideration: How fireworks affect many PTSD sufferers

“Oh, it’s for fun,” is what we often hear by those supportive of fireworks. Weddings, parties, concerts throughout the year, as well as October to January for Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year. But for thousands of people across the UK, it is completely the opposite and far from fun. A few minutes of ‘fun’ for a relatively small number of people can cause months of distress for thousands of others, as you will read below. We will cover many of the people affected in a series of blogs –  some sufferers of PTSD, dementia, some on the autism spectrum, with anxiety, some living with fibromyalgia, hyperacusis and more. But today we will look at many people who suffer from PTSD and some war veterans, who suffer dreadfully from the sounds and smells of fireworks.

What is PTSD and who can be affected?

1 in 10 people in the UK develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to PTSD UK. So in a small to medium town of 20,000 people, that is 2,000 people. In your road with say 100 people living in it, you could have 10 people living with PTSD and who may be impacted by your actions. We have examples of people, who got in touch with us who are terribly affected by fireworks. Each bang can take them back to the trauma they initially experienced and make them anxious and extremely agitated, sometimes reduced to tears. So read on to understand more and why you are not being the ‘fun police’ when standing up to fireworks. You are being considerate and standing up for 1 in 10 people affected by a traumatic event – let alone many others, as we mentioned above.

According to PTSD UK, “PTSD is essentially a memory-filing error caused by a traumatic event and can affect anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death and therefore can affect anyone. Examples of traumatic events include serious accidents such as road traffic accidents, being told you have a life-threatening illness, bereavement, violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, robbery, or mugging, military combat, a terrorist attack..” and more. 

The charity states examples of how many people are affected: 1 in 5 firefighters, 70% of rape victims, 2 in 3 Prisoners of War, 40% of people who experienced a sudden death of a loved one, and an estimated 10,000 women a year following a traumatic childbirth.

So why is it relevant for us to be considerate of people who suffer from PTSD in our choices around fireworks?

Sufferers of PTSD can often find it difficult to tolerate certain sounds and some sounds provoke fear. Additionally, triggers can give flashbacks to a traumatic event which was experienced. PTSD UK in its blog on flashbacks says, “When you experience something really traumatic, your body suspends ‘normal operations’ and temporarily shuts down some bodily functions such as memory processing. During trauma, your brain thinks ‘processing and understanding what is going on right now is not important! Getting your legs ready to run, your heart rate up, and your arms ready to fight this danger is what’s important right now, I’ll get back to the processing later.’” So the brain suspends the event but recalls the sensory information around that – like we can often remember where we were or what we were doing when something important in our lives happened. You might remember what you were eating, drinking, what you could smell, hear and so forth and often for PTSD sufferers, the blog explains, when you hear or smell similar things again, it takes you back and your body and mind goes into the fight or flight response it had to deal with then. Taking you back and re-living the trauma. Time and time again. 

This month of November, we take time to acknowledge and be grateful for, the sacrifices that the current and previous armed forces take and have taken for us – to keep us safe. We wear poppies in respect and gratitude. Many have sacrificed their lives in doing so but many still live, but with the trauma of what they faced always with them. When a group of people wants to ‘have fun’ and not be limited from that, in letting fireworks off, they can be reminding and making some war veterans re-live the trauma they experienced. 

This year, walking with the wounded posted a blog. “Remember, remember our veterans on the fifth of November. While fireworks and bonfires are used to celebrate Guy Fawkes and Diwali, for some, the loud bangs and smells can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress…For some veterans, the smells, sights and sounds of Bonfire night are all too similar to those experienced in combat.”

Here is an example where the wife of a war veteran explains how fireworks affect her husband:

“My husband is a war veteran. He served in the Welsh Guards for 22 years and sustained life-changing injuries in the Falklands War. He actually died on the runway at Port Stanley airstrip. He received CPR from a colleague and thankfully he was resuscitated, but because of the lack of oxygen to his brain, he has brain injury and back problems and lost his leg below the knee. Part of his left foot was also blown away. This happened when a harrier jet accidentally fired the sidewinder missiles it was carrying. So as you can imagine, loud bangs affect him. He becomes very agitated and shaking, breaks out in a cold clammy sweat and is reduced to tears. It’s pitiful to see a grown strong man reduced to tears due to the noise of fireworks. We put the television on very loud, but I can see by his face it really gets to him. When these fireworks are going off all the time, it is terrible to watch him. I really think they should be banned on the street and only used in an organised event.”

Here is another example:

I would like to give you an insight as to how Firework Season impacts on the life of myself and my husband who suffers from Complex Combat PTSD & Enduring Personality Change After Catastrophic Reaction after serving ten years in the Armed Forces. Please note the term Firework Season as it just seems to get longer and longer with each passing year, then just when you think it’s safe, along comes New Years Eve and we start all over again. He lives ‘safely’ in his bubble he has created to not only protect him but to protect us around him. Suddenly his bubble is no longer safe, as all around him at any given time are fireworks. It’s not only the sound or the flash. It’s the smell and if close enough the feel of them going off. Firework Season for my husband means there is added anxiety, hyper vigilance and anxiety-induced incontinence, less sleep, more nightmares and flashbacks. He doesn’t eat when he’s anxious, due to the PTSD and anxiety he now also suffers with GORD. All we ask is that you consider the idea that it be organised displays only and only for a limited period around Guy Fawkes. At least the people like my husband and those with pets can at least be prepared.”

So to be clear, war veterans sacrificed what their life was, for us and to keep us safe – and we think people are being ‘fun police’ and ruining their fun of a few minutes by letting off fireworks that cause immense distress, make them feel unsafe and make them re-live that painful experience..? Just think about that one for a moment. Is the balance of a few moments of ‘fun’, versus immense distress and trauma re-lived – for people whose life is radically changed because of trying to protect you and those around you – really worth it? Really? If, while you are standing drinking mulled wine, enjoying the loud bangs and colours, you could have a live video stream to people who might be cowering in their house, might that change your behaviour? And might thinking about this make you take action – pass this blog on, tell more people about it, write to your MP once the election is over?

Jamie suffers from PTSD . He was involved in an electrical explosion 10 years ago and 45% of his body was covered in flames and burnt. One bang from a firework can take him back to that traumatic and life-threatening event. You can watch his video here of his views on fireworks and how they affect him and also his dogs:

“It took me years to recover from that physically. Mentally, I can be taken back there in a flash. All it takes is someone thoughtlessly letting off a firework without me knowing and I am back there. Think about those people who fought for our country, who have been fighting – war, gunshots, bombs. With fireworks, you can be taking people right back to that moment.”

Amanda’s daughter suffers from PTSD:

“Basically where I live, the fireworks have been going off since October at all hours and my kids can’t take it anymore. My daughter has PTSD, ADHD and sensory issues. I can’t even get her from school to my house at 3.20pm. The fireworks are booming away and I’m physically walking her home with my hands over her ear defenders whilst also trying to stop my son from running off because he’s also scared. My child should not have to sleep with ear defenders on or have night terrors because of these fireworks.  And round here it’s teenagers letting them off too. I have signed every petition I can find for the past 6 years and I’m totally fed up with it all. My daughter will have a breakdown if this carries on.”

People letting off loud fireworks sometimes say, “Oh well no one complained so we will carry on,” but often people can’t or don’t want to keep complaining, as they feel bad to ‘ruin’ other people’s fun. Or they see they are helpless and can’t change it. Isn’t it time for the rest of us to speak out for them and say, ‘Hey, we can sacrifice a little ‘fun’ to make your lives better. We have plenty of ways to enjoy ourselves, that is more considerate of others.’

We know there are so many of you and my heart goes out to you for the distress that the inconsideration of others causes you. Many recent surveys/polls have shown 80 to 90% support for changes in regulations in the UK. Behaviour needs to change and people be aware that fireworks are inconsiderate, as well as the law changing so they can’t go off much and their impact limited. But for behaviour and the law to change, each person reading this blog needs to share it, tell others about it, write to their local MP once they are back, write to people doing displays etc.

By doing so, you are being considerate and respectful. People can enjoy themselves in quieter, less distressing, less polluting ways. Let’s be a considerate society that considers all humans within it, as well as all animals with whom we share this planet and the natural environment.  

#notpartofthejob #banfireworks