Words by Abi Scaife
The whistle of fireworks as they soar into the sky, the crackle as they explode into colour and light. Fireworks aren’t just about the way they look - the atmosphere, the sounds; it’s a whole experience.
For some, though - they are reminiscent of another experience that's far from celebratory.
“I had no idea that fireworks were a problem for people with PTSD. It wasn’t on my radar and I would go to firework displays and not think anything of it,” explains Jasmine Skander.
As a barrister, she specialises in working with those who have psychological injuries - in particular, veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Almost every statement that I read from veterans, talks about fireworks - specifically on Bonfire Night, really close to Remembrance Day. It causes a massive triggering of PTSD and a real deterioration in mental health.”
“What I didn't connect until I listened to veterans is that fireworks sound exactly like the battlefield.”
After spending time with veterans who struggle with PTSD and psychological trauma caused by their time on the battlefield, Jasmine couldn’t ignore the issue any longer. She set up The Sound of Fireworks - a campaign, and register encouraging people to inform others about their fireworks displays before they happen.
“Once you know the next time you hear fireworks, you will hear it through a completely different prism, which is one that sounds like gunfire, and sounds like the battlefield and sounds like war,” says Jasmine, who experienced the same change after her continued work with veterans.
“I spoke to a veteran recently who was saying that even if you're in the vicinity of fireworks, there's something about what happens to the pressure in the air that also reminds them of war.”
Of course, veterans aren’t the only ones who struggle with unexpected fireworks - it can also cause issues for people with autism and can be stressful and even physically dangerous for animals and livestock.
Just knowing about a firework display in advance makes life so much easier for everyone. It gives veterans and others with anxiety a chance to find somewhere else to stay, and allows them time to mentally prepare. Farmers and pet owners can bring animals inside out of harm's way and consult a vet about concerns, if they know there will be displays near them.
Plus, registering your fireworks is incredibly easy. Once you’re on the Sound of Fireworks website, all you need to do is enter the date and approximate location and time of the fireworks for it to be added to the register.
After that, anyone who is concerned about fireworks in their local area can either search their location for displays or sign up to get email alerts when one is coming up.
The whole process takes about a minute but helps to give those who experience distress as a result of fireworks some agency - the ability to remove themselves from a situation that could cause them harm.
“I think the general public just hasn’t connected the two together just as I hadn't,” says Jasmine. “There's no criticism at all. But I think once you bridge that gap and you understand that one point, it suddenly becomes a much more pertinent issue. I also think that fireworks are so entrenched in our culture that we never pause really to think about the ways that they're affecting more vulnerable people in society.”
The Sound of Fireworks register doesn’t reveal any of your personal information, or give an exact location - your personal data is secure. Using an online register, not only protects the identity of those who are using fireworks but also the dignity of those who may be affected - allowing them to make decisions that protect their mental health without having to tell all their neighbours about it.
Jasmine is incredibly keen that this is not about banning fireworks or bubble wrapping the world - there are many things in everyday life that are unavoidable and may cause problems for veterans with PTSD. But, the unavoidable is not the point - The Sound of Fireworks is a campaign about harm that can be avoided to make things just a little easier for those who are struggling.
“There are always going to be things that are going to startle people and animals - a car can backfire, even the sound of bees flying around their ears reminds them of bullets, lorries, helicopters … you absolutely cannot bubble wrap the world for anybody,” says Jasmine. “Fireworks are a source of celebration that are optional in that way in a way that bees and lorries going by aren't.”
“It's just about giving people who are suffering quite a lot already a little bit of a break.”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Papyrus. This is the leading suicide prevention charity for young people, working with under 35s. Find out more.
Samaritans. Samaritans works to make sure there's always someone there for anyone who needs someone. Find out more here.
PTSD UK. This is a community for everyone in the UK that is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Find out more here.