Phoenix Australia’s newest ambassador, Sharon Bown, served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for 16 years. During that time, she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but Sharon’s life since diagnosis shows the potential and power of posttraumatic change.
Sharon Bown was working in East Timor as a RAAF aeromedical evacuation nurse when she was seriously injured in a helicopter crash. Left with a severe spinal injury, a shattered jaw and burns, Sharon was also later diagnosed with PTSD.
But she was determined that her physical and mental injuries would not derail her future. Since retiring from the RAAF, Sharon has become an advocate for what she describes as ‘posttraumatic health’ and ‘life beyond trauma’.
Her belief in the possibility of recovery after trauma has led Sharon to become an ambassador for Phoenix Australia.
“The mission and vision, and the values and beliefs of Phoenix Australia align with mine,” says Sharon.
“I believe in what the organisation does and I believe in the team of motivated professionals – academics, researchers and clinicians – who are working to ensure that we have the best treatments and supports for posttraumatic mental health.
“People who have experienced trauma need to be confident that there is a standard of treatment available to them that is effective and based in evidence. But it doesn’t just stop there. The research and evidence must continue to grow in order to evolve treatment options to help more people recover.”
Sharon remembers the challenges of being diagnosed with PTSD and then trying to find effective methods to eventually overcome it.
“When I received my diagnosis my first question was ‘OK, how do I overcome this and deal with this?’ And sadly the response I received from the psychiatrist was ‘there is no recovery from PTSD, you just need to learn to live with it’. That was devastating and shocking – the idea that there was no pathway forward.”
Sharon was committed to proving that assessment wrong. Her recovery involved receiving evidenced based treatments from well trained therapists.
Sharon is living proof that there is life beyond trauma and that it can be a fulfilling life. After surviving the helicopter crash in 2004, in 2006 Sharon served as the Aide-de-Camp for the Minister for Defence, commanding an Air Force health unit, and commanding a critical care team in Afghanistan.
Since leaving the RAAF, Sharon has spoken to audiences about her experiences of PTSD and about the possibilities and realities of recovery after trauma.
“I feel the narrative isn’t balanced because while there is a lot of awareness of PTSD and how it manifests, we don’t talk about life beyond trauma in a positive way. We shy away from talking about posttraumatic change, and that change following trauma can be very positive”, says Sharon.
“I’m looking forward to supporting Phoenix Australia’s vision and mission. I bring my lived experience of trauma and life beyond trauma, and I will be using my story to raise the profile of Phoenix Australia. I will also offer that lived experience to the team and say, ‘this is how I receive the message you are putting out and this is how I can deliver that message to the wider community’.
Sharon Bown, new Phoenix Australia ambassador
“I’m a big believer that sometimes trauma can lead us to experience the world in a different way, and that this can have positive ramifications. That’s not a very popular outlook, but I have grown as a result of the trauma I experienced, and I would not have truly understood my capabilities as an individual without having gone through that experience.”