Tomos Carruthers, a Paralegal in the Military department discusses the affect fireworks on bonfire night may have on veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Triggers that can cause veterans to relive traumatic events are plentiful, diverse and can instigate PTSD symptoms. Triggers including smells, sights, and sounds initiate the onset of unwanted memories. Fireworks are a common trigger due to their intense and startling cacophony of noise. So why are fireworks so problematic? In essence, veterans often associate fireworks with combat scenarios, as they emulate incoming fire which often occurs at night; fireworks are therefore a very significant reminder. They often lead to heightened stress and anxiety levels, and a disruption in sleep which, in turn, lead to other symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks, nightmares and hypervigilance.
Last year, former Sergeant, Richard Smith described for ITV News the impact that bonfire night has on veterans. From his service in Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he witnessed first-hand “things you would never wish to experience”, from children throwing fireworks at him and his unit in Northern Ireland to being mortared and shot at in Iraq. Richard highlighted that the prolonged anticipation of a detonation was an issue exacerbated by the unpredictable suspense between subsequent explosions. His instinctive reaction was to seize his wife and pull her behind any available cover for her protection. It is believed that the adrenaline instigates a flight or fight mode leaving some veterans unable to think rationally.
In 2019, despite a petition of 301,611 signatures to limit the sole use of fireworks to organisers of licensed displays only, the petitions committee concluded that it would not be appropriate for Government to ban the public use of fireworks. The reasons behind these decisions are as follows; the effects that the ban would potentially have on community groups and fundraising efforts, the impact it would have economically on people that have built their livelihood on the firework industry and concerns that the ban would result in counter-productive consequences for public safety.
As bonfire night remains a popular annual tradition across the UK, there are simple steps which we can all take to help prevent the impact on veterans. Bonfire night falls on Saturday, the 5th of November. Firework displays creating noise are expected throughout that weekend. Ensuring the use of fireworks occurs during this predictable time slot and concluding their use before 10pm would diminish the impact on veterans’ sleep and condition. Awareness and consideration of neighbours by informing past and present veterans in advance or simply going elsewhere will certainly lessen the night’s impact on those individuals. Silent fireworks offer an alternative, beneficial for PTSD sufferers, but not popular with those organising displays as they may fail to build an atmosphere.
Professor Catherine Kinane, Medical Director at Combat Stress encapsulates the issue by stating that “firework displays bring people together and create a lot of joy for spectators. We don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but we urge the public to understand how distressing noisy fireworks can be for military veterans.”
At Hugh James, we support veterans suffering with Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, Non-Freezing Cold Injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; liaising closely with veterans’ charities.
If you are affected in any way, contact the following for support: