PTSD sufferer speaks out about damage of intrusive surveillance
Ex-cops say insurers followed them, worsened their PTSD
Cindy Modderman has just embarked on the trip of a lifetime.
She has battled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years, some days finding it is impossible to leave the house, and her first trip to America with her daughter is an exciting event for the former police officer and paramedic – one her psychologist believes will help her recovery.
But, due to an ongoing battle with insurer QBE to have her PTSD recognised as a workplace injury, Mrs Modderman’s lawyer advised her not share photographs of her holiday with friends and family on social media, in case investigators acting for the insurance agency trawl through her accounts and use the images against her.
It is sensible legal advice, that Mrs Modderman has made a conscious decision to ignore in a bid to smash the stigma associated with PTSD.
“A lot of people aren’t getting better because they’re hiding away, because they’re afraid about what will be used against them,” she said.
“They’ve told me since day one to keep off social media and that they know the insurers and investigators that they employ get all the data from Facebook … and that if you’re seen to be doing any of these things that appear to be normal, then basically in their eyes there’s not anything wrong with you.”
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Her eldest daughter Madeline turned 21 in June and Mrs Modderman promised to buy her a holiday with a friend as a gift.
“She said I really want to go to New York … but I want to take you,” Mrs Modderman said.
In a post on Facebook days before the trip, Mrs Modderman had a message for the insurance “trolls”.
“I am not hiding my black secret anymore,” she wrote.
“My close family and friends already know and they too live with this and they endure my mood swings, my ups and downs. I have PTSD.
“I personally struggled with this diagnosis up until very recently. I thought I was ‘tougher’ than that.”
She goes on to say she will not be ashamed or embarrassed by her illness, “just as I wouldn’t be if it were diabetes or heart disease or some other medical condition”.
“PTSD is a mental health condition. I am medicated to treat and help control my symptoms. Some days are good, even great. Other days are not. I can face certain ‘triggers’ and my symptoms relapse.”
In the post, which she shared with friends and No More Neglect, a private Facebook support group for emergency services workers suffering bullying and stress, she said she would continue to try to regain a normal life with her husband and three daughters.
“If I am ‘caught’ smiling, laughing, enjoying lunch with my husband, watching [daughters] Ella ride in a comp, watching Madi perform in a play or I am at the beach playing with Laura – how could I have PTSD? Trying to live ‘normally’ can be easily used against me.”
Mrs Modderman was a police officer for 12 years, before leaving to care for her daughters.
She later spent eight years working as a NSW Ambulance paramedic until she was physically injured, then she joined the ambulance’s Northern Control Centre in Charlestown as a call taker and dispatcher.
She said it was the 18 months spent at the control centre, where she was the target of sustained bullying, that resulted in her psychological injury.
Mrs Modderman said PTSD sufferers felt pressure to not show happiness, ever. This pressure was intensified by the surveillance tactics used by her insurer.
“I don’t know what they’re trying to catch you out on because I’ve never said I can’t walk out my front door,” she said.
“I went to my sister’s hen’s day at Newcastle races going back three years ago now and I had been told by [an insurance] case manager that I’d been seen out and about enjoying a race day.
“You become paranoid then. You become paranoid about every single little thing.
“Then you think ‘I might just stay inside’ and then a vicious cycle begins.
“You get confidence to go out and then you’re faced with this. You may as well stay inside and become a zombie.
“There’s no chance of recovery if they are constantly being obstructive in your treatment.”
Attempting to live a “normal” life is a key part of PTSD recovery, psychiatrist Russell Hinton said.
“Getting back to as near a normal life as possible is very important,” Dr Hinton, from Belmont near Newcastle, said.
“I ask all my patients with PTSD to try to maintain all their pre-illness activities such as exercise, hobbies, and spending time with friends and family.
“One of the problems is that when people become unwell they tend to give up a lot of the things that helped in keeping them well and this serves only to make them more unwell and slow their recovery.”
He has joined legal professionals in questioning the usefulness of surveillance and criticising its impact on sufferers.
Lawyers to whom the Newcastle Herald has spoken also raised concerns about the Psychiatric Impairment Ratings Scale, used by insurance agency medical professionals in determining the extent of psychological injury.
The scale rates people battling mental illness, essentially scoring them based on their activities, such as leaving the house, cheering for a sporting team, or travelling.
“Some insurers appear to think that [everyday] activities are inconsistent with someone suffering with PTSD,” Dr Hinton said.
“I actively encourage my patients to do these activities because it’s in their best interests.”
Dr Hinton, whose practice runs yoga classes and a monthly PTSD socialisation group to help sufferers forge a sense of togetherness, has previously spoken out about the “broken” workers’ compensation system.
“Putting patients under surveillance causes them a significant amount of distress, adds to shame they often feel for being unwell, makes them feel like they are doing something wrong, and interferes with their treatment,” Dr Hinton said.
He said he understood legal advice was often to not have social media accounts and to not participate in certain activities for fear sufferers may not look “unwell enough”.
“This is completely counter to what I, as a clinician, am trying to do,” he said.
“Not being able to participate in social and leisure activities just adds to the burden that these men and women already carry.”
Mrs Modderman, who left for New York on Saturday, was excited ahead of the two-week trip, but knew there would be challenges.
“I really don’t know how I’m going to wake up because I still have nights where I don’t sleep for more than an hour and that’s because my mind keeps going over what happened to me, feeling that I’m letting people down, that I’m not doing the job I love, that I’m not valued in the community,” she said.
“Other times I think I’m going OK … then I get worried about going out. What if I see this person or that person and I get a big anxiety attack?”
She has been on “six or seven different regimes of anti-depressants and medications to help me sleep” and she is aware of her triggers.
“I know that I do have a bit of an issue with seeing ambulances out,” she said.
“I know [New York] is very big and busy and bustling and I know there’s going to be sirens going over there and lots of things happening … but I’m going to try and enjoy our time. I feel like I owe it to Madeline.”
A spokesperson for QBE Australia said the insurer was committed to treating injured workers with respect.
“QBE will use surveillance activity as a claims management tool within the strict professional guidelines of our regulators and any relevant legislation,” the spokesperson said.
“Surveillance may involve desktop review, including social media, but only where information is publicly available and pertinent to the management of a claim.
The spokesperson said surveillance alone was not sufficient to make a decision on a claim and was used “to validate” other evidence.
“QBE does not tolerate the use of social media monitoring of claimants for any other purpose and this is explicitly stated in our policies and procedures.”