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Saturday, 12 January 2013 17:18

Of what are you afraid?

What is it with the norms that we accept today? Many think it is a new thing but in reality, it is not. There is a lot of medical research and advancement into the treatment of such an illness. I speak of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or as we refer to it PTSD.

There was a time when you would not speak of such a taboo subject. You were weak, isolated from your peers, not included in social events, just in case your colleagues might catch something from you. The biggest current threat to receiving any form of useful help is our own self-diagnosis and self-management. Maybe it will go away, I’ll be right.

We know so much more today than formerly. Awareness campaigns are flooding our television screens and social networking forums with high profile individuals disclosing their personal journeys of pain and anguish in the hope they can encourage others to seek help.

With Mental Health Week just around the corner, this is an opportune time to stop and think of our young defence population. There are many currently in uniform but there are many more out in our general community. Do you know who once wore a uniform in your street? Do they live next door, that house behind you or even that young family down the road? The point is you just may never know to whom you are speaking.

Mental Health Week will be quickly followed by Veterans’ Health Week with the theme this year being “social inclusion – participate, connect and influence. How do you influence or connect with those ex-service personnel in your community?

While we do not always have the answers it may be as simple as saying hello and striking up a conversation. That conversation may just save someone’s life. This is a powerful message quite possibly proving to be the rock you could turn over revealing someone’s deeper issues and providing an opportunity for a chance to give direction.

While there are steps in place today to capture people before they leave the service, the reality is many in denial will slip though the proverbial net. The fact that you may be fit and healthy when you discharge; where and to whom do you turn to when the wheels fall off further down your chosen career path? If you are aware you can seek support through the many services in the community. If you are not otherwise versed in where to go you will feel isolated, withdrawn and a whole bunch of other side affects that can cripple you.

Many who attend the Younger Veterans’ Forum RSL (NSW) have a story to tell and some are currently maintaining regular specialist care to help deal with their own illness. While this forum does not focus on the big issue of PTSD research, what is important is that it is a regular topic of discussion amongst the many challenges faced.

Mental health is not a disease that isolates people… people isolate people. If someone had a broken arm, you would expect it would appear in a cast. If someone had a cut you would expect they would get it stitched up. If there was a bus crash you would expect those people present to assist with triage. However, if someone has a bus crash in their head everyone turns their back. These silently, suffering individuals need professional assistance.

Is it confronting? Yes, it is, but so is going to a funeral.

It may sound a little harsh but the reality is we are breaking down perceived negativity and the associated shame or disgrace. Over the last few years there have been significant changes. We hear of PTSD so much more because it used to go by other names – Battle Fatigue, Combat Fatigue, Shell Shock, to name a few. No matter your age or what you’ve experienced the human body’s threshold to trauma can vary – as psychological research has shown us.

One of the biggest changes is the number of personnel coming forward with varying mental health issues – most of which are derived from the plethora of incidents to which the Australian Defence Force is exposed. They can equally be the junior people or those from the senior leadership teams or even star ranks. No matter who that individual might be they cannot afford to remain in silence or isolation. That status quo approach has a very unsatisfactory long-term outcome.

Of what are you afraid? Are you going to miss another deployment or promotion? Do you feel you don’t want to let the team down, looks bad on your record, you’ll appear weak, can’t suck it up? This is certainly not the case in fact. By not coming forward and seeking professional help and assistance is not only detrimental to your health but potentially your work mates’ safety as well. You cannot keep their backs. Your mental fitness has an equal standing with your physical fitness. Without possessing a clear mind, quick decision making abilities and good executive skills all your physical fitness will not prevail.

The knock on harmful effects of untreated PTSD for the partners and families of veterans can be enormously significant often affecting those who would normally provide valuable support. Yet another sound reason to seek early treatment. Military life for family members can prove challenging enough with frequent deployments, exercises, and relocating to a new area without the addition of a mental health injury such as PTSD.

A popular misconception is that seeking help will prove detrimental to an individual and his/her career. Not true. There have been many ADF members in the media of recent times and the common theme throughout their collective experiences has been they’re now paying the price for not seeking help earlier. They have all discovered the hard way that any delays brought them no positive long-term benefits, quite the opposite.

Written by Shaun McGill,

Secretary, NSW Young Veterans Forum,

Director, Australian Families of the Military Research Foundation


Last modified on Sunday, 13 January 2013 17:13