Eighty-seven troops have been released from the Defence Force on mental health grounds in the past five years and a further 67 needed help after assisting in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, new figures show.
Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones has written to soldiers urging them to seek help for mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress.
His letter was prompted by former top-ranking soldier Lieutenant Colonel Bill Blaikie speaking out about his struggle with the disorder to The Dominion Post.
A former deputy director of intelligence for the combined forces in Afghanistan, Mr Blaikie’s life fell apart after he returned to New Zealand in 2004 and he twice attempted to take his own life.
General Jones’s letter revealed mental illness figures within the Defence Force. In addition to those released and given help after assisting in Christchurch, it said nine cases of post-traumatic stress had been diagnosed since 2007.
“I believe these numbers are likely far lower than the actual numbers among us who will be struggling to come to terms with some aspect of their service,” he wrote. “Nor do they take into account the recent incidents in Afghanistan.”
Ten New Zealand troops have been killed in Afghanistan and about a dozen injured.
Help was available, General Jones said.
“I think we still do have too much of a macho culture around such issues. The courageous thing is not to suffer in silence.”
Mr Blaikie said international research showed more than a quarter of returned servicemen and women were likely to need help for stress-related, emotional or mental health problems. “So obviously we are not capturing all of those people.”
All troops on operational missions receive psychological support from the Defence Force before, during and after their deployment. There is also training in mental health areas throughout their careers.
Personnel are interviewed by a psychologist and complete a medical exam within three months of returning to New Zealand.
By DANYA LEVY
– © Fairfax NZ News