Emo­tional scars need our sup­port to heal

The West Australian - - OPINION - Tasha Broomhall Tasha Broomhall is men­tal health strate­gist and di­rec­tor, Bloom­ing Minds

My great-grand­fa­ther Arthur Curley Win­wood fought in World War I, sac­ri­fic­ing a leg and pos­si­bly parts of his heart. By all ac­counts Curley was a lovely man. A man who like many of his con­tem­po­raries lost a part of them­selves in the name of our coun­try. He was one of the lucky ones who came home and from my fam­ily’s sto­ries, he was qui­eter when he re­turned, and that was the ex­tent of the emo­tion ex­pressed around his ex­pe­ri­ences. Any trauma that he dealt with was not voiced.

When our An­zacs came back, life went on. Peo­ple may have been con­sid­ered as cro­chety or with­drawn, but we hear that most re­turned ser­vice­men in that time did not seek help for the emo­tional toll of what they had been ex­posed to, the lives lost around them and the chal­lenges with rein­te­grat­ing back into their pre­vi­ous lives.

This was a dif­fer­ent time. A time when emo­tions were not as well un­der­stood, not as freely ex­pressed and as a rel­a­tively new Fed­er­a­tion at that stage, we pos­si­bly had lit­tle knowl­edge about or re­sources to sup­port any emo­tional toll.

How­ever, to­day we do. To­day we un­der­stand the emo­tional toll of be­ing in ac­tive ser­vice. To­day we un­der­stand many of the chal­lenges faced by those who exit the mil­i­tary and try to move into a new phase of their lives. Not by all, but by many. Some of the num­bers are stag­ger­ing. For ex­am­ple, it’s es­ti­mated that around one in 20 home­less in Aus­tralia are vet­er­ans.

An Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare re­port found that while sui­cide rates were sig­nif­i­cantly lower among full-time serv­ing male Aus­tralian De­fence Force mem­bers, the rate is 13 per cent higher for men who have left the force. An­other re­port found un­em­ploy­ment rates for vet­er­ans was around five times higher than the na­tional av­er­age. Clearly there is much work to be done.

For more than 100 years we have sent our men and women into dan­ger zones around the world, some­times in ac­tive com­bat, some­times in peace­keeper roles. And we of­ten fall short of sup­port­ing them for the emo­tional scars they have re­ceived in the name of our coun­try.

I have heard ex-mil­i­tary per­son­nel talk about the night­mares they still have that drag them back into scenes that’d make your skin crawl; the dad whose daugh­ter wanted him to sit in the front row at her school con­cert but in­stead he stood at the rear of the room with the wall se­curely shield­ing his back as this was the only way he felt se­cure in a crowded un­con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment; the man who found it so hard to for­get when he came home and ev­ery­one wanted him to just be grate­ful that he came back in one piece so he started drink­ing to numb the pain, over two years his numb­ing spi­ralled and his life did too, un­til even­tu­ally ad­dicted to metham­phetamine, he sat home­less and disconnect­ed from ev­ery­one he had once loved.

I, like many of us, grew up with an aware­ness that An­zac Day is a day of na­tional re­mem­brance.

A date to pause and re­flect on the lives lost in ser­vice, and a day to be con­scious of the on­go­ing horrors of war and that we should not en­ter into it lightly. On April 25 we shine a light on our ser­vice­men and women, past and present. There are ser­vices, there are marches and there are mem­o­ries shared. But what hap­pens the other 364 days of the year?

This week, the Sir John Monash Cen­tre will be opened in the grounds of the Villers-Bre­ton­neux mil­i­tary ceme­tery in north­ern France. It will be opened af­ter an in­vest­ment of sig­nif­i­cant funds, time and en­ergy.

The cen­tre shares Aus­tralia’s story of the Western Front in the words of those who served. It her­alds a sig­nif­i­cant me­mo­rial to those passed.

But what about those who are present? How will we fo­cus on them and their needs for the next 364 days to en­sure we don’t just pay lip ser­vice to recog­nise what they have sac­ri­ficed in the name of our coun­try?

How will we in­vest funds, time and en­ergy over the next 364 days to en­sure that we gen­uinely sup­port them to re­cover from all of their in­juries, and to re­cal­i­brate their lives with the range of phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars they might be car­ry­ing?

I have heard for­mer mil­i­tary per­son­nel talk about the night­mares they still have.

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