Pointing the way towards better support of veterans’ mental health

Amanda Lyons

13/04/2018 2:28:02 PM

The Federal Government has released research that provides a blueprint for better provision of services to ex-serving military personnel returning to civilian life.

New research into the impact of service provides guidance towards better support of Australian veterans and service personnel. (Image: Arthur Edwards/AAP)
New research into the impact of service provides guidance towards better support of Australian veterans and service personnel. (Image: Arthur Edwards/AAP)

‘At home I found it hard to reconnect with [my wife] and I found myself yearning to be back in Afghanistan. Although I was living with someone who loved and cared for me, I often felt isolated and alone. The images kept returning to me and my anger grew as I suffered nightmares. Driving was one of the hardest things to adapt to as I was constantly scanning for threats, and any trip was a battle to contain my aggression.’
This is an excerpt from the maiden speech of Queensland MP Brent Mickelberg earlier this year as he took his place in Parliament, and is reflective of the experiences of many Australian veterans.
A number of ex-soldiers and their family have criticised the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) for what they believe is a lack of support for service personnel experiencing trauma and mental health issues as a result of their service. As a particularly strong example, former Commando Mick Bainbridge, who served five overseas deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan, said he was ‘treated as a leper’ when he confided his mental health struggles to his commanding officers.
But the recent release of two reports from the largest study ever undertaken in Australia on the impact of military service – Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme – signals a welcome change for veterans and a clear pathway towards providing them with greater assistance.
‘The Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme is the largest and most comprehensive study conducted in Australia to examine the impact of contemporary military service on the mental, physical and social health of both serving and ex-serving personnel and their families,’ Dr Glenn Pascoe, GP and Chair of the RACGP Military Medicine Specific Interests working group, told newsGP.
‘There are significant findings in the reports that will help the Australian Department of Defence [ADF] and the DVA focus their support in the future.’
The information will also be of great help to GPs, as the accessibility of general practice makes it an ideal place for veterans to disclose their issues with mental health and receive the care they require.
‘GPs are frontline in the effort to curb mental health disorders in Australia’s returned veterans, and must be alert to the unique mental, physical and cognitive health issues that often present as a consequence of trauma,’ RACGP Past President Dr Frank R Jones has said.
One of the reports’ most sobering findings is the high prevalence of mental disorders among veterans. However, while concerning, it is important to note these findings are consistent with results of international and previous Australian research.
The research has also revealed some positive outcomes for transitioning veterans.
‘Of those who did not seek assistance, the reasons were a perceived preference to self-manage, ability to function effectively and feeling afraid to ask,’ Dr Pascoe said.
‘But the study also shows that even though many ADF members held stigma-related beliefs, the vast majority of those with mental disorders sought assistance – so it appears the message of “seek help early, no matter the cause” is having some effect.
‘There is evidence of a growing level of mental health awareness and greater willingness to seek care amongst both current serving and transitioned ADF members, with a considerable number doing so within three months of identifying a mental health concern.
‘This uptake of services exceeds community and international standards in veteran and military mental health.’
The Federal Government has already taken significant steps to improve access to mental health care, transition support and future employment assistance programs for current and ex-serving ADF members and their families, such as establishing a Transition Taskforce to address barriers to successful transition and boosting funding for initiatives to prevent veteran suicide.
Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester has pledged that the Federal Government is dedicated to sustaining these efforts, and will use the results of its study to help guide future initiatives as well.
‘These first two reports strengthen the evidence base for the programs the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs already conduct, and we will continue to use the research to improve our programs available to current and ex-serving ADF personnel,’ he said.

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anon   17/04/2018 10:19:07 AM

I wonder if ex service people should be offered work in areas such as firefighting search and rescue or leading outback adventures as away of getting them back into society

Mai Maddisson   17/04/2018 3:44:25 PM

I wonder if is time to begin looking outside the square.