Dr Nick Coatsworth has opened up about how crippling post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) once left him unable to leave his home as he prepared to step up as the face of Australia’s vaccine rollout.
The former deputy chief medical officer told Karl Stefanovic he had been pushed to the limit working for Doctors without Borders in Sudan, Chad and the Congo.
‘I was in Darfur in an immediate post conflict situation,’ he said.
‘I think everyone has their limits in life,’ Dr Coatsworth told Karl Stefanovic. ‘And I kind of reached that, the security situation there was really difficult. There was the threat of assassination of people in the place where we were.
He said there were also constantly threats of kidnapping from the militia, and once an unexploded ordnance went off near the hospital.
‘The militia invaded the hospital and I had to evacuate the team out the back.’
On his return home to Australia, the 43-year-old started to suspect something was ‘seriously wrong’ when he struggled to readjust to life and became exceedingly anxious.
‘I felt like I was having these heart palpitations,’ he explained.
‘I was taking my pulse all the time to make sure I was still around. It was very bizarre stuff to do.
The former deputy chief medical officer told Karl Stefanovic he had been pushed to the limit working for Doctors without Borders and suffered PTSD and anxiety on his return home
‘At the end of 2019 it got to the point one weekend I couldn’t leave the house.
‘I was lying in bed, I was so anxious that I thought it was like an agoraphobic response,’ he said.
‘You need to stay as safe as possible. You’re lying in bed, socially paralysed.’
He also became snappy with his children and uncharacteristically angry during moments at work.
‘I felt as though I couldn’t go on to the wards at the hospital,’ he said.
‘I I was probably more snappy with the kids and with family life. Then the big signal for me was that I started getting angry, not with a lot but on occasion with some work colleagues which is something that I never, ever do.
‘Then of course there was the actual moment where I couldn’t actually get out of the house. When it starts interfering with your life like that, Karl that’s when you know that you need help from mental health point of view. ‘
His wife Rebecca, a lung transplant physician, had convinced him to go and see a psychologist who prescribed medication for his anxiety.
Dr Coatsworth said he remained on medication for about a year and urged other Australians to listen to the advice of their loved ones about seeking help.
Dr Nick Coatsworth worked as a volunteer doctor in conflict zones around the world, including Sudan, Chad and the Congo. Pictured is a protester in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum
Dr Coatsworth said he remained on medication for about a year for his anxiety and urged other Australians to listen to the advice of their loved ones about seeking help
‘One of the main messages is you have to listen to the people who know you. I had to listen to my wife,’ he told host Karl Stefanovic.
‘It took me a lot of convincing to go and see a GP, to see a psychologist to be medicated for it. I’m not medicated anymore but I know what the triggers are’.
Stefanovic said Dr Coatsworth’s story was an example of how one of ‘the most high-profile Australians, a smart very capable man seemingly impenetrable with confidence’ could still be a little broken inside.
‘We’re all a little broken, I think. We have to admit that. The thing is if it starts affecting your day-to-day life that’s when you need to get help,’ the doctor replied.
‘If someone who you love is telling you that you need to get help, that is not the type to be refusing or saying no. It’s the time to let down your guard, admit that, like everybody you’re not bullet proof.’
The former chief medical officer was still recovering from his paralysing anxiety when he landed a major role in Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘I would say I was recovering at the time. It’s lucky, because it’s the sort of job that floats my boat is something that has a lot of adrenaline attached to it,’ Dr Coatsworth explained.
‘At the same time I had to balance that with recovering from a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress.’